Located at the northern Hemisphere, Scandinavia is obviously in the peak of winters when Christmas comes. It is the darkest and coldest period of the year. Christmas lights up the long, dark nights with cheers and warmth.
The exaltation of celebrating the birth of Jesus makes people active even in the extremities of weather. Christmas in Scandinavia starts with Advent and both men and women, young and old take part in this with gusto. Though 24th December is the main celebration, there are many preparations to do before the holy day arrives. Scandinavia was originally a pagan country and celebrated “Jul” or “Yule”, a winter festival, before Christmas was introduced. And, glimpses of pagan customs and traditions in Scandinavian Christmas celebrations can be seen even now.
Scandinavian Christmas starts with the first Sunday of December, the first Advent-the countdown to the birth of Jesus Christ. Scandinavians start decorating their houses as a welcome sign. Children decorate their home with their favorite Santa, tinsels, lights, candles and many other things. As a contrast to the bitter and dark winter, each and every house is lighted with colorful lights. The Scandinavian Advent wreath consists of four candles, one to be lighted on each Sunday before 24th of December. The wreath is usually embellished with spruce twigs, moss, red berries and ribbons.
Scandinavians celebrate Lucia night in connection with Christmas. This falls on the 13th of December and is observed in commemoration of Lucia or St. Lucia, the Queen of Light, an Italian saint who belonged to the island of Syracuse. She was very kind-hearted and brought food to the poor Christians in the catacombs in Rome. It is said that she wore a wreath on her head and placed candles on it to light her way so that her hands stayed free to distribute food.
Quite surprisingly, St. Lucia night is celebrated in Scandinavia with greater enthusiasm than in Italy, from where she actually hailed. During the festival, a Lucia is selected in every village, dressed in white, singing Christmas songs and carrying wreaths on her hair, with candles on it. The audience is usually treated with saffron buns and ginger snaps.
Christmas season in Scandinavia is characterized by the Christmas markets that spring up in every small town and city. These markets sell mulled wine, saffron buns, local delicacies and traditional handicrafts. The largest Christmas market in Scandinavia is usually set up in the amusement park Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden. This market, decked up with over 5 million lights, starts from November and stays put till Christmas.
The tradition of Santa Claus varies across the countries. It is the strongest in the Nordic region where it is believed that he visits every home on Christmas Eve. According to Scandinavian belief, Santa is a cross between a gnome and a Greek Saint Nikolas, and a lot of children believe he lives in Norway or Sweden.
The traditional Scandinavian cuisine consists of a variety of cold and warm delicacies like fish, meat, sausages, ham, salads and desserts. Herring and lutefisk are traditional fish dishes. Schnapps is a Scandinavian beverage distilled from potato or grain and then flavored with various spices.
Christmas in Scandinavia is a special experience. The Christmas markets and traditional Scandinavian cuisine makes it an exclusive privilege for the natives.