While visiting Norway this Summer, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to visit anywhere in Scandinavia in Winter. Instead of sunny hikes with warm breezes, I imagined towns like Oslo covered in snow with twinkling lights peaking through on rooftops and windows. And of course, it was easy to let my mind wander to Christmas, seeing already picturesque villages like Bergen turn into a magical holiday wonderland, full of festive activities and lots of Hygge around ever corner.
While a trip to Scandinavia may not be in the cards for this holiday season, adopting a few festive Scandi traditions is more than doable. And it all starts with Christmas Eve! In all three Scandinavian countries- Norway, Denmark and Sweden – Christmas Eve is the main event, the day (and night) for most of the main holiday traditions and celebrations. In some ways, it’s even more exciting than Christmas day!
Whether you’re dreaming of a Christmas Eve in Norway, Denmark or Sweden, here are a few not-to-miss holiday rituals shared across the countries that you can adopt in your own home.
7 Scandi Christmas Eve Traditions to Adopt this Year
1. Celebrate “Little Christmas Eve” – It may sound slightly odd, but Christmas Eve festivities actually start the day before Christmas Eve. As it’s known, Little Christmas Eve is celebrated across Scandinavia and usually involves families getting together to tidy the house, bake and decorate gingerbread houses or cookies, and of course, decorate the tree. These days, you can find gingerbread house kits at just about any major US store or market. And a promise of ginger treats may be just what you need to inspire your family to help with a total house clean up.
2. Enjoy Traditional Scandi Christmas Foods – Denmark, Sweden and Norway will always be known for their excellent seafood. From pickled, to spiced to marinated to smoked – fish and other seafood are on most holiday menus. However, Christmas Eve in Scandinavia is more than just seafood. A Scandi Christmas Eve also includes such delights as roast duck, pork or goose, potatoes, pickled cabbage and, in Sweden – Christmas Eve would not be complete without Swedish meatballs. And when it comes to Christmas Eve dessert – risalamande (rice pudding) is most certainly on the menu made with cinnamon, butter, vanilla and almost always, with a single almond hidden inside. The lucky person who finds the almond receives a small gift.
3. Serve a Festive Scandi Drink (or Two) – All throughout the Winter season, but especially on Christmas Eve, Scandinavians enjoy traditional festive drinks like gløgg, a warm and spicy drink that can be made with a red wine base, combined with a mix of other alcohols like brandy and rum, plus spices like cinnamon and cloves, and garnished with slices of citrus fruit. If gløgg is not your style, you could also try juleøl, a dark, malty Christmas beer or even a julmust, which tastes like a mix of Coke and root beer. No matter what you drink, be sure to shout a hearty “skål” to toast the occasion.
4. Open Presents Early – I don’t know about you, but growing up in the U.S., we always opened our Christmas gifts on Christmas morning, after spending all Christmas Eve day and night waiting for Santa. But to celebrate the Scandi way, presents are traditionally opened on Christmas Eve after dark and usually after church and dinner. Open presents early? Well, when in Norway….
5. Invite Santa to Christmas Eve Dinner – In the U.S., the idea of Santa riding in his sleigh all night to secretly drop off gifts on Christmas Eve, is pretty standard. However, in Denmark, Santa or The Christmas Man is not as secretive. In fact, Santa (played by a family member or friend) joins the Christmas Eve gathering, dressed in his traditional red robes, to celebrate with family and hand out gifts. On a different note, Norway’s Santa is known as a Julenisse, a gift giving gnome-like creature who wears a red hat and has a long white beard (much like the popular little plush gnomes we see in the states). Sounds adorable and a little creepy at the same time. But, either way, a Santa-like figure comes bearing gifts, so you can’t lose.
6. Dance Around Christmas Tree – This Christmas Eve, why not participate in the Scandi version of rockin’ around the Christmas tree? On that special night, families in Norway, Sweden and Denmark can be found after dinner, joining hands and singing carols around the Christmas tree (a Norwegian spruce, of course), decorated with homemade wood and felt decorations, freshly lit candles and simple garland. Popular carols include Nu är det jul igen (Now it is Christmas again), En stjerne skinner i natt (A Star is Shining Tonight) and even Så går vi rundt om en enebærbusk (Here we go round the mulberry bush).
7. Watch Donald Duck – In the U.S., it’s quite common for families to watch special holiday movies and shows on Christmas Eve or anytime during the holiday season. In Sweden, families also love to watch holiday shows together on Christmas Eve. But unlike those in the U.S. who may gather to watch nostalgic movies like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, the Swedish have a more animated focus. At 3pm each Christmas Eve, half the country is glued to their televisions or other screens to enjoy the annual ‘Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas’ show (‘Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul’). No Christmas Eve in Sweden would be the same without it.
God Jul everyone!