The Christmas season in Scandinavia begins on the first Sunday of Advent, when the first candle in the advent candleholder is lit. On each subsequent Sunday, another candle is lit, so that on the fourth Sunday, there are four candles, all of which are placed in the candelabra as a part of ancient Christmas traditions. This is the period of the Advent. Like its western counterparts, Scandinavia traditionally celebrates Christmas on the 24th of December. However, the preparations for Christmas start months in advance. In ancient times, much before he Christian customs were followed, the 'Jul' or 'Yule' was an observation of the winter solstice. It was a mid-winter affair, celebrating harvest, fertility and birth. Although December is considered to be the darkest month in Scandinavia, the majority of the population in this country, who are Protestant Christians, go to church, light candles on four subsequent Sundays, lay wreaths on loved ones graves and feast on a grand scale. Read on to know more interesting information about the rituals, customs and characters associated with Christmas in Scandinavia.
The Birth Of Yuletide Traditions
Scandinavia is known to be the birthplace of Yuletide traditions. The dark, cold winters inspired the development of these customs that would go on to become one of the most important traditions in Christmas around the world. 'Yuletide' means 'the turning of the sun' and has been highlighted as an important concept in Scandinavia since time immemorial. For the longest time, it was considered dangerous to sleep alone on Christmas Eve. Thus, extended families would get together, along with the servants, and sleep together on a fresh mat of straw.
The traditions of the Yule log are also derived from the cold and dark winter solstice. The Yule log was initially an entire tree, which was carefully chosen and brought into households with great pomp. One part of the tree was eventually fed to the fire, and the log would be used for the entire season. In modern times, the Yule log is often associated with omens - good and bad.
The Christmas season traditionally begins with Advent, which falls on the first Sunday of December, leading all the way up to the 24th of December. During this time, the people of Scandinavia decorate their house with candles, light bulbs and wreaths. And even though December is the darkest month in the country, the lights during the festive season offer all the warmth and the colors of the festival. Starting with the first Sunday, a candle is lit and placed on the candle stand. The same ritual is done on the following Sunday, and continues all the way till the fourth Sunday. Four candles in the candelabra signify the period of Advent, just before the Christmas celebrations. The candelabras and candles are traditionally decorated with twigs, ribbons and berries.
Before sunrise on December 13, it is believed that 'Santa Lucia' brings light to the whole of Scandinavia and warms the people. Thus, people celebrate Lucia night with hot coffee, candles, saffron buns and cookies. It is believed that a Sicilian Saint called Lucia was killed for her Christian faith in 304 AD. Every year, Lucia night commemorates her sacrifices for her religion with parades, hot food and candles.
Straw Goats, also known as the 'European Yule' or the 'Yule Goat' are probably the most famous Scandinavian Christmas characters. Typically made out of straw, these goats are associated with the custom of 'wassailing', sometimes referred to as 'going Yule Goat' in Scandinavia. The legacy can be traced back to two goats pulling the wagon of Thor, the powerful being who made thunder and lightning by throwing his hammer in the sky.
In Scandinavia, a small gnome called 'Julenisse' puts presents under the Christmas tree at night. According to customs, children leave a bowl of porridge outside for the gnome, in the hope that the gnome gets impressed and leaves presents. Apart from the Julenisse, Scandinavia has also adopted the modern Christmas character - Santa Claus.
Although modern Scandinavian Christmas traditions are not very different from the universal customs, the people of Scandinavia do follow their ancient rituals steadfastly. From lighting the candles during Advent to following the ritual of burning the Yule Log, Scandinavian Christmas traditions are the highlight of the festive season.
The long, dark winters in Scandinavia gave birth to the Yuletide traditions. Read on to gather more information about Christmas in Scandinavia and its customs, traditions and celebrations.