Alla Helgons Dag
Holidays & celebrations of Sweden
Alla Helgons Dag
Alla Helgons Dag, or in English All Saints' Day is an official Holiday in Sweden. In the past this day has always been the 1st of November, as it still is in many other countries. The roots of this day are from the Catholic Church with the All Saints Day on November 1, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2.
In Sweden however this tradition has disappeared as such. Instead we celebrate "Alla Helgons Dag" on the Saturday close to the 1st of November (in practice this is the Saturday somewhere between the 31st of October and 6th of November). This day became an official holiday in the year 1953. Just to make things even more confusing I should mention that we still have the 1st of November in our calendars. But this day is called "Allhelgonadagen" instead, a name which is easily confused with "Alla Helgons Dag".
So why is this day so special to the Swedes? "Alla Helgons Dag" is a day to remember the lost ones. This is the day that a lot of Swedes visit the graveyards of their loved ones and remember the ones that have passed away. They all bring a white candle with them and light it at the grave. The otherwise dark graveyards around the often lovely and historic churches in Sweden turn on this day into a sea of picturesque flickering candle lights. With the days turning short and the autumn slowly turning into winter it is maybe not so surprising that this day is cherished and loved among the Swedes: a touch of light during these dark days, a day to reflect and remember the loved ones. Besides lighting a candle it is also common to bring some flowers and/or a wreath.
If you are in Sweden on "Alla Helgons Dag" you probably won't notice a lot of difference to any other day. It might however be an idea to visit one of the many churches in Sweden on Alla Helgons Dag and see this touching carpet of candlelight.
There are certain days in Sweden where you might see little flags on top of the buses or trams. This is because those days are called Flag Days and are:
* Jan 1: new year's day
* Jan 28:, the King's name day
* Mar 12: the Crown Princess' name day
* Easter Sunday: sometime in March or April
* Apr 30: the King's birthday (and the Last of April festival day)
* May 1: May Day
* Whitsun/Pentecost: 49 days after Easter Sunday
* Jun 6: Sweden's national day and the Swedish flag's day
* Midsummerday: the Friday that falls under the period Jun 19-25
* Jul 14: the Crown Princess' birthday
* Aug 8: the Queen's name day
* Election day: the 3rd Sunday in September every election year (every 4 years)
* Oct 24: the UN day
* Nov 6: King Gustav Adolf's day
* Dec 10: Alfred Nobel day and the celebration of the Nobel Prize
* Dec 23: the Queen's birthday (and my dad's too hehe)
* Dec 25: Christmas day.
Another (unofficial) Flag Day we have is May 9, which is an European Union flag day. That day you might see the Swedish and the EU flags on top of the buses and on flag poles in buildings.
Info from Wikipedia: Flying of the flag is permissible from sunrise to sunset. In general this means from 8 AM to 8 PM. During winter the time from sunrise to sunset is often less than 12 hours in the whole of Sweden and during this time the actual daylight hours should be observed. One example of handling this is the practice of the Infantry Regiment in Kiruna, which during this period flies the flag for one hour each day starting at noon.
Sweden's red days are: Jan 1, Good Friday, the Monday after Easter Sunday, May Day, Sweden's day, Ascension day (the 6th Thursday after Easter Sunday), Midsummer day, All Saints day (the Saturday that falls under the period Oct 31-Nov 6), Christmas day and Boxing day (the day after Christmas day).
Advent Celebrations: Lucia
Lucia is celebrated every 13th of December and initiates formally the Christmas celebration. In the ancient Swedish farm society, people used to eat, drink and party all night long and one of the farm ladies had a white gown and carried a crown with lit candles on her head, as they believed the Lucia day had the longest night of the year.
Modern day celebrations include the "search for Lucia" in all the municipalities of Sweden, being the coronation of Sweden's Lucia in Skansen and the Lucia concert in Globen, Stockholm the biggest ceremonies. The Lucia girls parade in what we call "Luciatåg" (Lucia train). The Lucia train is composed of Lucia followed by Lucia maids (Luciatärnor), star boys (stjärngossar) and children (or young teenagers) dressed with ginger bread guy/girl like (pepparkaksgubbar) and Santa Claus like (tomtar) costumes. Lucia and her maids are dressed with a white gown and a red ribbon on their waist, the maids carry lit candles on their hands and Lucia her candle crown on her head (when it comes to small children they carry battery powered candles for security reasons). The Lucia train will sing some songs, being Sankta Lucia (scroll down) the song the one that announces who's coming to
There are Lucia trains in schools, hospitals and some other public places. One of my SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) teachers said that this, while not being a red day in the calendar, was an important holiday because Lucia brings light to us living in darkness during winter.
The Lucia day is where we traditionally drink glögg (hot mulled wine) and eat lussekatter (read my separate tip about it) and ginger bread cookies. Of course, you can find and eat these products all of December.Related to:
- Family Travel
Advent Celebrations: Candlesticks and Calendars
Advent is the season of preparation before Christmas, here in Sweden of 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve. We start by having an Advent candlestick with decorations and one candle that we light on the first Sunday, 2 on the second, 3 on the third and all 4 on the fourth. By the time the 4th candle is lit, a "stair" is formed from the other 3 candles being burned at different heights.
During the whole season we like putting out an electrical Advent candlestick, usually with 7 candle shaped small light bulbs to light up our days (and nights), considering how little sun light we get during winter. This, and an Advent star, are used until Jan 6th (trettondedagen in Swedish, 13 days after Christmas Eve).
For the children, an Advent calendar is sold. It contains 24 "windows" numbered from 1 to 24 that kids open up , one every day, and find a small piece of chocolate. These 24 "windows" represent the days from Dec 1st to Dec 24th, where they get their Christmas presents. Those who are good with craft work make their own calenders and put in small toys or other things (like when Mr. Sweden was a kid). Another form of counting down how long it is until the Christmas Eve dinner is a calendar candle. I'll post pictures of my decorations when I put them on. In the meantime, these pictures are from Wikipedia.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Food and Dining
Systembolaget: Wine and Spirits Store
This is the only place in Sweden where you can buy wine, spirits and beer with a certain (higher) alcohol percentage (you can buy some beer and cider with a low alcohol percentage on supermarkets like Ica and Coop). They monopolize alcohol selling to, and I quote from their site, " minimize alcohol-related problems by selling alcohol in a responsible way, without profit motive." You need to be 20 years old to be able to buy here and you must show your ID card if the cashier asks for it.
The best way I can describe knäckebröd is like a thicker form of a cracker. Knäckebröd is fairly popular as breakfast and/or between meals snack and the variety of toppings you can have on your open face sandwich is almost endless.
Crayfish parties are, well, parties where Swedes gather round to eat crayfish. They're held in August as a late summer pastime.
The crayfish are boiled in water with a little salt and seasoned with dill. To this people drink beer and/or snaps.
I'm afraid I cannot take part in these festivities due to allergy to fish and seafood :(
Midsommar, or midsummer, is one of the most ancients traditions in Sweden. The celebrations are held on "midsommarafton" or the eve of midsummer, which is the Friday under the period of 19th of 25th of June.
People wear a flower crown made of birch (soft) branches and covered with 7 kinds of flowers. Then people build a maypole, decorated it and dance around it. Traditional dishes that are eaten then are boiled fresh potatoes (the first from the harvest), herring, and strawberries or strawberry cake. To this people drink snaps and sing songs.
According to tradition, young girls used to collect 7 different kinds of flowers, put them under their pillow and dream of their future husband.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Julbord - the Christmas Table
Julbord is a smorgasbord with dishes that most treat as traditional during the Christmas holidays. Some of the dishes are herring, gravad lax (salmon cured in salt), lutefisk, the traditional Christmas ham, boiled potatoes, "leverpastej" (similar to foie gras), roasted pork ribs, small sausages, meatballs, red beet sallad and Janssons temptation - sliced potatoes baked with cream, onions and sprats. The traditional dessert is rice porridge with shredded cinnamon on top, in which an almond is hidden and s/he who finds it is supposed to have good luck.
To these yummy dishes people drink some snaps and sing some local songs, julmust (a carbonated soft drink) or julöl - Christmas beer.Related to:
- Food and Dining
Semlor are traditionally eaten every Tuesday during Lent. A semla is a sweet cardamom bun, filled with marzipan and whipped cream and with a "hat" (from the same bun) and some powder sugar on top. Originally these buns were eaten only on Fat Tuesday under Lent.
Most Swedes (and especially those coming from Norrland - northern Sweden) like eating their semla in a bowl or deep plate of warm milk, true to the traditional way of eating semlor....while I prefer eating it the same way I'd eat another pastry. I start by the "hat", putting as much cream as I can, then I eat the bun.
Shoes Off Before Entering Someone's House
It's not only nice manners, but sort of an unspoken rule. When I asked why, I was told that it's to avoid dust and gravel from the street into the house. Some people might offer a guest to wear some indoor slippers, otherwise wear socks inside :)
As far as I know this only applies for casual, non-informal visits to friends and family.
Pizza as the Italians have never seen it!
Sweden has great pizza places almost in every little village, where you get huge, thin pizzas which are good value for money, and usually come with a nice white cabbage and pepper salad. They come as the usual capricciosas and calzones but can someone please tell me if there is any other place on Earth where there are pizzas with banana, peanut and curry powder??? I know as an Italian lover I should detest them, and they are of course never found in an Italian owned pizza place but they are sooo gorgeous! :-)))
On top of that sacrilige, the north of Sweden has a great habit of using reindeer not only for steaks but also on pizzas. Served with either horseradish or lingonberry (Swedish small cranberries) it gives bizarre but equally nice combinations.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
- Food and Dining
DAY OF LUCIA - 13th December
All over the country there's election posters with pretty young girls smiling at the camera. They was put up weeks ago and soon the election is coming to an end. This is going on everywhere, in schools, at jobs, at the local gym, in churches, on TV... So what on earth is it we're voting on?
We're choosing this year's Lucia. The one who will lead the procession on the 13th of December. A procession spreading light and joy all over the country!
The Swedish Lucia celebration is an annual festival of medieval origin, observed on the 13th of December. On this day, the darkness is brightened by Saint Lucia, a creature of goodness and light who opens the door to the Christmas season.
Named after a Sicilian saint, the Swedish Lucia does not have much in common with her namesake. She is celebrated in a variety of ways, but the most common is the Lucia procession consisting of a group of young girls and boys singing traditional Lucia songs.
On her head, the girl or woman playing the part of Lucia wears a wreath of lingonberry sprigs with holders for real candles (battery-powered ones are sometimes a safer option) to give the effect of a halo. She also has a white, full-length gown with a red ribbon around her waist. Her female attendants (tärnor) wear similar gowns and the "star boys" (stjärngossar) wear white pointed hats decorated with stars. Lucia processions are held in various places, ranging from kindergartens and schools to churches and the Swedish Parliament.
Lucia can be perceived as a symbol of the good forces in life and a symbol of light in the dark winter. She usually appears early in the morning, bringing coffee and saffron-flavored buns (lussekatter) traditionally eaten around Christmas time in Sweden.
Pictures taken from:
On the last day of April the swedes celebrate Valborgsmesse. The celebration always reminds me of the Danish and Norwegian Midsommer, or Sankt Hans. A big fire is lit and songs are being sung. The songs are called "V?rsongar", and are about spring.
The big yearly celebration in Sweden is undoubtably the Midsummer celebration. A far cry from the midsummer celebrations in Norway (and Denmark). A big pole is decorated with flowers and raised. People dans around the pole like they would dance around a christmastree at christmas. The symbol of the pole isn't that well known, but if you see the pole with it's two rings on an overlay, you'd soon figure out what it is. This is a great time to see folk costumes in Sweden.
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