Well we didn’t plan to spend our first Christmas back in Europe, in Sweden but when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic what can you do?
We were hoping to go back home to the UK for the first time in 5 years but in true 2020 style and the UK’s relentless fluctuating tier structure, it didn’t feel like a good idea. It was a good thing too because on the 21st December, all flights between Sweden and the UK were grounded. Residents returning to Sweden face a 7 day quarantine and by January 5th, the UK went back into a full lock down for six weeks.
Cue huge sigh of relief to stay.
But that meant we had to rustle up an impromptu Christmas in Sweden with no idea of what we were doing. So this is a break down of what we did… and why. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable about Swedish culture can educate us if we have got it wrong.
Firstly we have no tree! It is traditional to have one in Sweden like in most European countries but due to a series of unplanned circumstances, we didn’t get one. Instead we surrounded ourselves with lights and Gonks. If you don’t know what a Gonk is, you have probably seen one. They are what I would call a Swedish gnome. They are sold everywhere in Sweden and are an iconic symbol of Christmas. They have certainly made our apartment feel that little bit more festive.
Now we knew moving to Sweden that we would have to get used to the cold and the dark. The cold has been manageable so far but the dark as been an adjustment. At the moment the sun rises just before 9am and starts to set around 2:30pm. We are getting around 6 hours of daylight and although I am not finding it too depressing, it is beginning to mess with our body clocks. We’re ready for bed by 8pm thinking its 11pm!
However, one thing I do like about the dark nights are the lights and candles. In almost every window of each apartment there are star lights or candle lights, to bring some glow when the sun goes down. It is the Swedish way of keeping the light going during the short days.
The last decoration was actually a Christmas gift. When I was little, my parents had a gold (well brass) chime that would spin around when the candles were lit. I loved watching it, mesmerised for hours. Who knew it was Swedish?! Well Rob happened to find one and it has brought me so much nostalgic joy this year.
Food and Drink:
Being “kinda” just across the water from the UK, I thought a Swedish Christmas dinner or Julbord would be pretty similar to home but I was very, very wrong. I know school dinners are not the most accurate representation for any cultural dish but it was my first introduction to a Swedish julbord. It consisted of; grilled cocktail sausages, meatballs, boiled potatoes, salmon, ham and a potato casserole with anchovies in it. It was like an Ikea buffet which I received with mixed feelings… intrigue and a little confusion.
Glögg is a Swedish drink that appears everywhere in the lead up to December. There are many different types with alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions that tastes very similar to mulled wine. What I like most about glögg is it’s cordial-like design that you simply add to red wine, making it super easy to make. A perfect warm drink on a winter’s night.
Julmust is another popular drink in Sweden during the festive period. When we first saw it, we had no idea what it was but bought it and tried it anyway. It is a popular soft drink sold all over Sweden during November and December and is Coca Cola’s biggest rival during this season. To me it tastes like American root beer but a little sweeter and a nice alternative if you fancy something different.
When it was decided we were moving to Gävle, we naturally googled it to find out some more information. The first thing that will pop up on your screen is the image of a rather large straw goat. This is known locally as Gävlebocken. It is a Swedish Yule Goat erected in the centre of Gävle every year during the Christmas period and has been burned down 36 times. When it went up this year, we didn’t know if it would survive long enough for us to see it (we were ill and had to quarantine) but luckily it was and was still standing until it was removed officially at the start of 2021.
As the Gävlebocken is such an iconic symbol of our town, you can buy your own Gävle goat as a souvenir which I was lucky enough to receive as my work secret Santa present. It is now an integral part of our Swedish Christmas decor.
Well to finish off this post, I will just say Covid has forced many of us to re-evaluate our Christmas traditions this year but one thing that will never change is the importance of family. I may not have been able to see them this year but Zoom has become a new Christmas staple. It is even more hilarious now we have learned to do a family call.
Since moving abroad we have learned how to make Christmas our own when we can’t see family and that’s what we did. We ate good food, drank really good coffee and played some games. It was perfect for us.
We have also learned to embracing the snow! We may not have got a white Christmas but we certainly got a white Christmas break with the snow finally arriving in Gävle… and I have LOVED it!
Well that was our first Christmas in Sweden and we really enjoyed it.