While the Swedes celebrate Christmas on the same day as most other cultures (December 24), they do have a series of traditions and customs unique to their country. Because December in Sweden is dark and gloomy, many of the Christmas customs are about light and celebrating the brightness of the season.
Swedish Christmas trees are set up and decorated no more than two days before Christmas Day. Mostly decorated in gold and silver, it is often full of lights and trinkets made of straw and wrapped candy, both of which symbolize abundance during the winter months to come.
Swedish Christmas celebrations start long before December 24, with the lighting of the Advent candles on the first Sunday of Advent. On December 13, people celebrate Lucia Day by dressing up children (or sometimes dolls) in white, flowing gowns to represent purity and the gift of abundance. During this celebration, children sing traditional carols and bring biscuits and coffee as presents to relatives and loved ones.
The main celebrations in Swedish Christmas start on the eve of December 24, when people gather to eat traditional foods and the opening of presents. Gifts for children are brought by Tomtes (instead of Santa Claus), Christmas elves who belong to each specific family and look after it throughout the year. Christmas Day itself is usually reserved for church and a quiet family lunch.
There are many traditional dishes that grace the table during Swedish Christmas celebrations. The Smorgasbord (buffet-style serving of different dishes) graces the table on December 24 and 25, offering everything from cold fish dishes to Swedish meatballs to julskinka (Christmas ham). The traditional Christmas dessert is called risgrynsgrot, and consists of rice and cinnamon cooked as porridge and served warm.
Christmas in Sweden lasts until January 14, known as Knut's Day, when the Christmas tree is taken down and all the edible decorations hanging on the tree are eaten. There are special Knut songs that celebrate the end of the season; these are often sang by children as the tree is discarded and a promise is made to reunite again next Christmas.