Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Celebrating holidays in Sweden

Wow I'm posting again so soon! I thought while this idea was in my head I better do it before I forget. Or maybe I'm just trying to put off reading my driving rules book that I have to return to the library tomorrow. Holidays while living abroad can be really fun and exciting, especially new holidays that don't exist in the U.S. But some holidays such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are weird to celebrate while abroad because, well, they don't celebrate them here. So I thought I would go through the holidays and explain how I've tried to keep American traditions I love in the holidays while also embracing living in another country and the new traditions!

New Years

I've posted about New Years Eve before, and really I think it is one of the most similar holidays to the U.S. They have fireworks everywhere, especially at home fireworks, sparklers, and drink champagne. One thing that did stand out to me was that in Sweden they release a lot of those big paper lanterns (like from the movie Tangled) at midnight. I haven't celebrated New Years in the U.S. for two years, but I don't think I remember this being that popular. Of course, one huge difference is not being able to watch the ball drop on tv in Times Square. But I hold on to traditions I love pretty tightly, so we set our alarms and wake up at 6am to watch the ball drop on our computers. A bit silly? Maybe, but it doesn't feel like New Years without it!

Valentines day

Hmm...I almost want to skip this one because I consider it a very minor holiday. My birthday comes ten days before, so I tend to focus on celebrating that a bit more... :). But I remember this year on Valentine's day I wore a red shirt to the lab, and remember seeing absolutely NO ONE wearing pink or red. I mean, it was like the purposely avoided wearing the color. But that probably has less to do with it being Valentine's Day and more to do with Swedish style focusing on the more neutral colors. Valentine's Day does exist here, but it is a MUCH smaller deal than in the U.S.

St. Patrick's Day

Funnily enough, I wore a green shirt to the lab again this day and again saw no one else wearing one. But then Alex who had a class filled with international students said most of them were wearing green shirts. So maybe Sweden just doesn't dress up for these goofy holidays? As you can see above, Alex and I bought some green food dye and lets just say we went a bit crazy with it. It was a green eggs and ham situation which sounds fun but then when green eggs or potatoes are sitting in front of you they just do not look appetizing at all. But we had fun :). They do celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Sweden I hear, mostly at bars or clubs in town though.


Easter is one holiday that I think differs from the U.S. quite a lot. I'm not an expert by any means on the Swedish version, but I can give you my observations. Little kids (and usually their parents) dress up as witches (but cute witches) and go and ask people for candy. It is like Halloween in the U.S. Common decorations are sticks with colorful feathers attached to them in a vase. We tried to copy this but forgot to buy feathers so basically ended up with sticks in water. But to be honest, I thought it looked pretty cool! And about a week later the sticks started to grow leaves. But to keep the American tradition, we also dyed some eggs (with a dye kit my mom sent over form the U.S.). I'm not sure if they sell the egg dying kits in Sweden.

Valborg (Swedish holiday: April 30)

I remember writing about this holiday in the blog before, it is basically to celebrate spring coming. It involves a big bonfire and alcohol. Not the best combination maybe, but I think the bonfire is such a great idea and so fun. They also had kids games at the one we went to last year and some food was being sold at the one this year. There is also singing and it is just a cute holiday and something that is definitely very Swedish. And usually we get May 1 off!

Midsummer (midsommar in Swedish): the Friday between June 19-25)

Midsummer is a BIG deal here. I would say it ranks second only to Christmas, if that. People love it. It is celebrated close to the summer solstice to celebrate summer, so up here in Umeå the days are very long and the nights still stay pretty light. Everyone is happy and goes outside and enjoys it while they can. It really is fun and there are usually events in town you can attend or you can go out into the country (as most Swedes do) and celebrate with friends and family. They eat a lot of pickled herring and potatoes with chives. Sadly, neither Alex or I could try the herring because I'm allergic and Alex is a vegetarian, but we sure did eat a lot of potatoes! I didn't try making a flower crown this year, but that is definitely a popular thing to do (even for dogs, as you can see in the undercover photo I took of strangers and their dog, above).

Fourth of July

Pretty obviously does not exist in Sweden. No fireworks, unfortunately. But we still wanted to celebrate, so we tried to think of the most American things we could. So we of course celebrated with donuts and beer (only American beer of course). The donuts we bought at the grocery store Coop and although they are nothing compared to Dunkin Donuts, I definitely enjoyed them. We also put sparklers in the Donuts because we had them and it looked pretty darn cool.


Well as I mentioned before, the closest thing to Halloween in Sweden is Easter. But on the actual Halloween there is not too much going on. No Trick or Treating. This year we found pumpkins for sale (super expensive, like everything here) but we couldn't resist! I bought one for carving and one for making pumpkin puree to save for pumpkin recipes for the fall! We had some friends over to watch scary movies and eat candy. My mom also sent over some pretty scary Halloween decorations so that made it a bit more festive as well! I think that I have become way more into decorating for holidays since I moved to Sweden, especially ones in the fall and winter. It just gets so dark here so any reason to make things more cheerful (or scary) makes the darkness easier to deal with.


I'm pretty sure I have already talked about Thanksgiving here too, but I thought it would  be best to have all the holidays in one place. This holiday is the one where I have tried very hard to make it work in Sweden and I really enjoy our swedish version. They don't sell pumpkin puree in a can for pumpkin pie, so I recommend buying a pumpkin around Halloween and making your own or when you go home to the U.S. bring some back with you like I do. I have yet to make a turkey here, they do sell them though. But since Alex is a vegetarian, I am not interested in cooking a whole turkey for myself. Not because I couldn't eat a whole turkey myself, because I could, but because it is just too much work for too little reward. One thing that I still have not found is cranberries. Not to make cranberry sauce, but just to eat. Around Thanksgiving I used to LOVE eating raw cranberries as a snack but in Sweden they are nowhere to be found (the fresh ones). We use lingonberry jam in place of the cranberry sauce and it substitutes pretty well. Especially since for the past two years I have had meatballs or reindeer meat instead of turkey. And that is how I make it swedish! Not having family nearby to celebrate with I think is one of the hardest parts, but we still try to make it special with decorations and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the computer during dinner.


Christmas, or Jul, in Sweden of course has lots of differences to the American holiday but they still feel very similar in how they are celebrated. People put up lights here too, but on a much smaller scale and usually in the form of stars with lights hanging in the window. Very minimalist. And you eat lots of yummy food, similar to the U.S., have a Christmas tree, and Santa brings kids presents. One major difference that I don't think I will ever get over is that in Sweden you celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. A man dressed up as Santa (either a dad or friend or some people hire Santas from the newspaper) with a Santa suit and mask comes in and gives the kids gifts on Christmas Eve. I feel like this would make me figure out the whole Santa thing a lot earlier if I was a child in Sweden, but maybe not. And before Santa comes and before you eat everyone watches the same video on TV. I mean everyone in Sweden watches this video on Christmas Eve. It is really hard to explain. I have heard many people call it the Donald Duck video, but it really is just thirty minutes of random songs from animated and disney movies, not really having anything to do with Christmas, pasted together. It really is a hilarious tradition that people take very seriously. They know it is silly, but at the same time they have to watch it. So we watch the video too, of course, but save Christmas celebrations for Christmas Day. We open one gift on Christmas Eve, just to be a little Swedish :). I have more about Christmas in Sweden in a previous post if you want any more information.

I'm sure I've missed some holidays and left out lots of details but that was a quick overview. It can be really hard during the holidays being in another country. Even baking a cake can take twice the amount of time after converting everything to metric or translating a swedish recipe to english. But it can also be exciting and fun and it has given us new traditions that I know we will keep even if our future takes us away from Sweden.

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