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Inspired by Iceland

Advent and Christmas in Scandinavia is a mixture of traditions

29/11/2013 | By | Reply More

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas


Advent wreaths are used to mark the passage of the Christmas season.

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, December 1. this year. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in both length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1.

At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Traditions in the Nordic Countries

We all love holidays! They are a time to have fun – a day for gathering with your family, eating delicious foods, and playing special games. Often, we have the day off from school or work. But holidays are more than just fun – they hold meaning and importance to the people who celebrate them.

When trying to learn about a new country, gaining an understanding of the holidays of the country is one of our most important tools. Plus, it can be a lot of fun!

The Nordic people have many unique and special holidays that can help us understand their culture and lives.

Something to Keep in Mind

The countries of Scandinavia are home to a large and diverse group of people, living throughout five different countries. While there are many similarities amongst the countries, it would be a mistake to think that all people from Scandinavia are alike. In looking through this guide, remember to keep in mind that even as the Scandinavian countries share many of the same holidays, they each have their own traditions, and holidays, that make them unique.

Land of the Midnight Sun

Winter in Scandinavia is a hard time. Not only is it extremely cold, but there are very few hours of sunshine during the day.

In the northern parts of Finland, Norway, and Sweden, which are above the Arctic Circle, the sun never rises for part of the winter!

Denmark, in the southernmost area of Scandinavia, only gets six hours of a sun a day in winter.

This happens because during the winter, while the earth orbits the sun, its tilt places the northern hemisphere farthest away from the sun.

But the opposite occurs during the summer, when the northern hemisphere is pointed towards the sun. During the summer, the sun remains in the sky late into the night, never setting in the northern parts of Scandinavia. This phenomenon of 24 hours of sunlight gives Scandinavia the title of “The Land of the Midnight Sun.”

But why is this important to our study of holidays and traditions? Since Scandinavia is deprived of natural light for a large amount of the year, the sun has become extremely important to the Scandinavian people.

In ancient times, it was believed that the gods controlled the return of the sun and if they were not worshipped properly the sun would not return.

Because of these superstitions, many Scandinavian holidays, such as Midsummer, Santa Lucia Day, and Christmas, revolve around celebrating the sun and light. Knowing how celebrations and traditions evolve is valuable to understanding them.

So, let’s get started and focus on Advent and Christmas season in Scandinavia.

Advent and Christmas Season in Scandinavia

Christmas in Scandinavia is a mixture of traditions: old and new, religious and secular, native and foreign.

Before Christianity arrived in the Nordic countries, Christmastime was already a time of jubilant celebration. On December 22, the shortest day of the year, a great feast was held in honor of Freya, the sun goddess, to hasten the return of the sun in the spring.

With the arrival of Christianity, the Nordic people began to celebrate Christmas, the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, which coincided with their own seasonal customs. Today, the rituals that make up Christmas in Scandinavia are drawn from traditional customs to bring back the sun along with the Biblical message of peace on earth.

In Scandinavia, Christmas is more than just a one-day celebration, it’s a long joyful time that starts in early December and extends into January. Towns are decked out in their Christmas finery and street stalls sell traditional goods.

One of the most popular ways of marking the days of the season is the Advent calendar. These calendars take many different forms, the most popular being woven wall hangings with numbered pockets containing one little gift for every day. In Iceland are Icelandic children dreaming for that opportunity to meet the 13 Yule Lads on the Advent. In Sweden, the television-advent calendar is very popular. A short episode is shown on television each day, after which you open a door on your calendar.

Many Nordic people also light the traditional four Advent candles, adding one for each Sunday of Advent.

The Christmas season is a season of anticipation, a time when traditions come to the forefront, and the people of Scandinavia celebrate with family and friends for the entire month.

I want to share with you a special theme of a lovely Christmas song which Nordic people sing in the Advent period in each country. This melody was made by the Swedish composer Emmy Kristina Köhler ( 1858 – 1925 ) who was teacher and author.

If some of my Scandinavian fellows are living abroad, I hope he or she will enjoy and take part, with the lyrics below on their mother tongue and follow the lyrics of the song with the video below by that country he or she belongs. Other readers, please enjoy and get some inspiration from Scandinavia for the coming Christmas season.

Every year in Denmark the Christmas season is memorialized with two unique items: Christmas plates and Christmas seals (decorative stamps). These two traditional Christmas items have become collectible all over the world.

Danish children light the advent candle – a candle with the numbers 1-24 painted on it – every night, burning it down until nothing is left and Christmas day has arrived.

In the workplace, bosses treat their employees to an annual Christmas lunch where everyone can let their hair down.

Lots of Danes attend a daytime church service on Christmas Eve and then retire to have a great family dinner.

This special dinner traditionally consists of a roast duck, goose, or pork along with caramelized potatoes.

For dessert there is rice pudding in which is hidden a single almond – whomever finds the almond wins a small marzipan pig.

After dinner, the Christmas tree is lit – often with real candles – and presents are opened.

On the 25th, families gather in front of the television to watch the annual Disney Christmas show, that features excerpts from Disney shows and movies and a special Disney Christmas card!
Nu tændes tusind julelys
på jorden mørk og rund
og tusind stjerner stråler ned
fra himlens dybblå bund.

Og overalt udspredes nu
julens glade bud
at født er Herren Jesus Krist
vor frelser og vor Gud.

Du stjerne over Betlehem
oh, lad dit klare skin
med tro og håb og kærlighed
i alle hjem nå ind.

I hvert et hjerte trist og mørkt
send du en stråle blid
en stråle af Guds kærlighed
i denne juletid.
Melody and lyrics: Emmy Kristina Köhler

Artist and performer: Thomas Kjellerup and Vesterbyens school choir under the direction of Troels Sørensen
Danish translation: Troels Sørensen


In Finland, as in many other Nordic countries, Christmas Eve is the most important celebration.

The day’s festivities begin at noon, when the “Christmas Peace” is declared.

This declaration is broadcast live from Turku, the oldest Finnish city, and harkens in the rest and relaxation of the season. With the ringing of the cathedral bells, the Christmas Eve festivities begin.

Finns might visit the sauna before sitting down to their traditional meal of raw salmon, pickled herring, vegetable salad, and a dessert of pureed plums with cinnamon biscuits.

The highlight of the day for children is when Santa knocks at the door to deliver presents.

It is also traditional to visit the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve and to light a candle, creating a field of sparkling flames at graveyards. Christmas

Day is a time of relaxation and it is not until St. Stephen’s Day on December 26, that people begin to visit family and friends.
Nyt syttyy valot tuhannet
myös tänne Pohjolaan,
ja taivahalta tähtöset
jo luovat loistettaan.

Taas yli koko maailman
käy tieto verraton:
Jo syntyi Poika Jumalan,
jo Kristus tullut on.

Oi Betlehemin tähtönen,
luo valos päälle maan!
Tuo joulurauha suloinen
myös majaan matalaan.

Nyt avaa ovet sydänten,
ne siitä rauhan saa.
Kas, loiste joulutähtösen
tuo rauhan maailmaan.
Melody and lyrics: Emmy Kristina Köhler
Artist and performer: Laulaa Anja
Finnish translation: Kullervo


Christmas in Iceland is a time when folklore abounds, adding to the magical air of Christmas.

While other children are dreaming of Santa, Icelandic children are dreaming of Gully Gawk, Window Peeper, Bowl Licker, Pot Scraper, and Door Slammer, among others. These are a few of the 13 Yule Lads, elf-like spirits who live in the mountains and descend on the people of Iceland during the holiday season, causing general mayhem and mischief. For the 13 days before Christmas, children put their shoes in the window behind the curtain and get a small gift from the Yule Lads.

During the Christmas season, light is everywhere in Iceland, decorating trees, buildings, and lampposts, adding a holiday glow to an otherwise dark time.

On Christmas Eve, everyone gathers for a traditional meal of hangikjöt (smokedlamb) and laufabrauð (thin bread) with lots of cookies and kleinur (fried bread) for dessert.
Við kveikjum einu kerti á.
Hans koma nálgast fer
sem fyrstu jól í jötu lá
og Jesúbarnið er.

Við kveikjum tveimur kertum á
og komu bíðum hans,
því Drottinn sjálfur soninn þá
mun senda' í líking manns.

Við kveikjum þremur kertum á,
því konungs beðið er,
þótt Jesús sjálfur jötu og strá
á jólum kysi sér.

Við kveikjum fjórum kertum á.
Brátt kemur gesturinn,
og allar þjóðir þurfa að sjá,
að það er frelsarinn.
Melody and lyrics: Emmy Kristina Köhler
Artist and performer: KK and EllenKristjánsdóttir
Icelandic translation: Lilja Sólveig Kristjánsdóttir


Norway, with its huge forests of pine trees, has more Christmas trees available than any other place on earth. The country has so many trees that it supplies nearly all of the Christmas trees for Iceland, which has virtually no trees, and ships a large tree to London to be displayed in Trafalgar Square.

Many families cut down their own trees and decorate them with straw ornaments and tiny Norwegian flags.

On Christmas Eve Day, the family watches Christmas cartoons on television. But at five o’clock, everything stops and the church bells start ringing, calling everyone to church services.

After church, families go home for a dinner of pinnekjøtt (salted, dried sheep ribs) and a dessert of rice pudding with an almond, like in Denmark.

Afterwards, the julenisse (Santa) arrives to give out presents to all the good children of the house.

On Christmas morning, the children find that another Santa has arrived at night and put gifts in their stockings.
Nå tenner vi det første lys
alene må det stå
Vi venter på det lille barn
som i en krybbe lå

Nå tenner vi det andre lys
da kan vi bedre se
Vi venter på at Gud, vår Far;
vil gi sin sønn hit ned

Nå tenner vi det tredje lys
det er et hellig tall
Vi venter på at kongen vår
skal fødes i en stall

Nå tenner vi det fjerde lys
og natten blir til dag
Vi venter på en Frelsermann
for alle folkeslag
Melody and lyrics: Emmy Kristina Köhler
Artist and performer:Gia & Filip Gade
Norwegian translation: Sigurd Muri


In Sweden, the day before Christmas Eve is traditionally reserved as the time when families venture into the woods to fell a Christmas tree or into the town square to buy a Christmas tree. Once the Christmas tree is up, celebrations can really start.

On Christmas Eve Day, the family gathers to watch old Disney movies, a tradition that has been going on since the 1960s.

The Christmas Eve meal, a real smörgåsbord, includes meatballs, lutfisk (dried herring reconstituted in lye), and a whole ham. In olden times,

Swedes would anonymously give presents by throwing them through doorways with little riddles attached.

Today, the Swedish Santa is called the jultomten. He comes to the door with a sack over his shoulder to distribute presents. Before the tradition of the juletomten, the Christmas goat (a mean creature) would come to the front door, knock, and throw in the sack of gifts!

Many Swedes still attend midnight service, julottan, in a church lit up with lots of tiny candles – a truly magical picture.
Nu tändas tusen juleljus
på jordens mörka rund,
och tusen, tusen stråla ock
på himlens djupblå grund.

Och över stad och land i kväll
går julens glada bud,
att född är Herren Jesus Krist,
vår Frälsare och Gud.

Du stjärna över Betlehem,
o, låt ditt milda ljus
få lysa in med hopp och frid
i varje hem och hus!

I varje hjärta armt och mörkt
sänd du en stråle blid,
en stråle av Guds kärleks ljus
i signad juletid!
Melody and lyrics: Emmy Kristina Köhler
Artist and performer:Helen Sjöholm & Benny Andersson


Value of Advent

Watch video – Courtesy





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