Traditions and festivals in Sweden


A tradition is something that people normally do and which recurs regularly. A festival is a special and important event that is often celebrated, for example Easter. Many traditions and festivals celebrated in Sweden have a religious origin. Some traditions have a Christian background. Some come from the time when the people in Sweden had many gods. Religious traditions and festivals are primarily holidays when family and friends can get together.

Some important traditions

January

New Year's Day, 1 January is a holiday. This means that most people have the day off work. The evening before is New Year's Eve. This is when many people in Sweden celebrate the beginning of the new year.

February

Schools in Sweden have a holiday in February called the February holiday or the sports holiday. Children get a week off school. In February or March, many people in Sweden eat semla. This is a bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. It is a traditions from the time when people in Sweden fasted. People ate fatty food before beginning the fast. Those who are fasting eat nothing at all for a period of time, for example for religious reasons.

March and April

Easter is celebrated sometime in March or April. It is the most important Christian festival, celebrating the memory of Christ's death and resurrection. Easter is now a festival that most people in Sweden celebrate with friends and family. In the past, it was common for people to fast for 40 days before Easter. When Easter arrived, people celebrated the end of the fast. Among the things they feasted on were eggs, which held a special symbolic value in Christianity – symbolising the empty tomb of Jesus, for example. In Sweden people still eat a lot of eggs at Easter. Schoolchildren get a week of Easter holidays, and many children dress up and go around neighbourhoods knocking on people's doors to wish them a happy Easter. In return they usually get sweets.


At Easter, many people set out twigs decorated with coloured feathers.
Photo: Colourbox 

At Easter, many people decorate their homes with twigs, usually birch twigs with feathers of various colours attached to them. Swedes celebrate the arrival of spring on Walpurgis Night, 30 April. Large bonfires are lit in many places and people gather around them to sing songs about the spring.

Nowruz

Nowruz is a new year celebration that is observed by Persians, Kurds and Afghans, for example. In Sweden, Nowruz is often called Persian or Kurdish new year. Nowruz is a festival to welcome the spring and happens around the time of the vernal equinox, on 20, 21 or 22 March. The day and night are the same length at the vernal equinox. This is usually at the end of March. Nowruz takes place over 18 days with parties, food and joy. Small fires are also lit that people jump over.

May

The First of May is a festival for workers. It has been celebrated since the 19th century in many countries. It is also a holiday. Many people have the day off work and schools are closed. Many people demonstrate on 1 May for workers' rights.


Walpurgis Night bonfire, also called a May fire.
Photo: Colourbox​

Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter. It is a commemoration, celebrated in all Christian churches, of Jesus' entry into heaven following his death and resurrection. Ascension Day is a holiday in Sweden. Most people have the day off work and many businesses are closed. Pentecost, another Christian feast, falls ten days after Ascension Day.

June

Sweden's national day is on 6 June and is a holiday. Some people dress in traditional Swedish costume on the national day. This looks different depending on which part of Sweden you come from.

Children's summer holidays begin at the beginning of June. Children have an end of term celebration at school. They celebrate the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer holidays. Parents usually take part in the end of term celebration when their children are young.


Midsummer at Nääs.
Photo: Bianca Rösner

Midsummer's Eve is a popular holiday. Midsummer's Eve is always celebrated on the Friday between 19 and 25 June. Swedish people celebrated Midsummer long before Christianity came to Sweden. People usually dance around a Midsummer pole on Midsummer's Eve. This is a pole that is covered in leaves and floral wreaths. Many adults and children also wear floral wreaths on their heads. At Midsummer, it is common to eat herring, salmon, new potatoes and strawberries.

July and August

Many people in Sweden take holidays in July and August. School begins again around 20 August. It is common to go to a crayfish party at the end of August. This is a party where people eat boiled crayfish. They often drink a glass of spirits with their meal. This is called nubbe or snaps. At the same time, they usually sing songs called nubbevisor or snapsvisor.

September and October

At the end of October or beginning of November, schools are closed and children have a week's holiday. This is called the autumn holiday or reading holiday.

Halloween is celebrated at the end of October/beginning of November. At this time, children usually dress up in fantasy costumes and knock on doors to ask for sweets. Many people buy pumpkins and put candles in them. Halloween is a fairly recent festival in Sweden, inspired by festivities in the US that originated with Irish and Scottish immigrants there.

Yom Kippur

An important Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur falls in September or October. This 'Day of Atonement' is celebrated by fasting, prayer and synagogue services in which people ask forgiveness for their sins. Yom Kippur falls ten days after the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah.

November

All Saints' Day is celebrated on a Saturday between 31 October and 6 November. All Saints' Day is a Christian festival when people think about the dead. Many people in Sweden go to cemeteries and light candles on the graves of relatives and friends.

December

December is the month of Christmas. Christmas is a Christian festival that is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Saint Lucy's Day is on 13 December. In Sweden Saint Lucy's Day is celebrated in order to bring back the light following winter. Children in preschools and schools wear white clothes and sing special songs about Saint Lucy and Christmas.

Schools close for Christmas holidays a few days before Christmas Eve, and open again at the beginning of January. Christmas Eve is celebrated on 24 December. For most people, Christmas is a festival when you are off work and celebrating together with your family. People eat special Christmas food such as herring, smoked salmon, potatoes, ham, meatballs, 'prince' sausages (like a short Vienna sausage) and rice pudding. People give each other Christmas presents, and many families have a Christmas tree decorated with lights, baubles and tinsel. The Christmas presents are usually placed under the tree.

There is a holiday on 6 January called Epiphany. Christmas is over on 13 January and this is when people usually take down their Christmas decorations and throw out their Christmas tree.


Santas and gingerbread houses are Christmasy.
Photo: Colourbox

Ramadan

Ramadan is the annual Muslim fast and lasts for one month. Throughout this month, adult Muslims who observe the fast may not eat, drink, smoke or have sex between sunrise and sunset. Ramadan ends with a big celebration, Eid al-Fitr. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding do not have to fast, and neither do the elderly or sick. Ramadan falls in the ninth month, also called Ramadan, of the Islamic calendar. As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins at a different time each year – about eleven days earlier than in the previous year.

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