It 3.30 in the afternoon in Gothenburg and the grey skies are suddenly enveloped in a cloak of darkness. But just as I get used to the freezing cold and the early sunset, the entire atmosphere turns magical. I am lost in fantasy land, the winter wonderland of Gothenburg as the spirit of Christmas descends upon us. This is my first experience of Christmas Market Sweden and I am fascinated by the Christmas traditions in Sweden. I have been to the Christmas Markets in Germany but this is my maiden trip to Sweden. The Christmas Markets are a visual treat to the eyes as I am dazzled by the bright lights. Gothenburg or Goteborg as its called is the second-largest city in Sweden and gives you a complete experience of Christmas in Sweden, then you have to it comes alive, especially during Christmas. The Gothenburg Christmas Markets are quintessentially Scandinavian and the largest among them is the Liseberg Christmas Market.
There are special Christmas traditions in Sweden called “julmys” and they add a dash of warmth to the cold winters and the Christmas buffet called “julbord” which is a special feast. I even try a vegetarian version of the feast. The Swedes even have their own spirits for the season- the alcoholic “glogg”, which is a version of mulled wine with almonds and raisins but it is the “julmust”, the non-alcoholic beverage which is a secret recipe. It looks like a glass of Coke but tastes completely different.
Another tradition about Christmas in Sweden is that there is also a Christmas tram that goes around the city, collecting gifts. We soak in the Christmas atmosphere at Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Sweden and at Kronhusjul, the traditional Christmas Market. and at Haga, the oldest suburb in Gothenburg. And there are many Gothenburg Christmas Markets as well in the islands of the archipelago.
The celebrations are charming as St Lucia concerts are held everywhere – from schools to streets, malls to museums, churches to well, even in an aquarium underwater. And a singing Christmas Tree adds to the melodious mood of Christmas, as a choir keeps us in great spirits.
Liseberg Christmas Market
We start our evening at the Liseberg Christmas Market, which is the largest amusement park in all of the Nordic regions and has been opened since 1923. Millions of Christmas trees are lit up as the entire atmosphere is transformed into a wonderland, making it a spectacular Christmas Light Show.
There are rollercoaster rides for kids and you can win large boxes of chocolates, like Toblerone weighing over two kgs. Kids thong Rabbit Land and then head to say hello to Santa to give him their wishlist. There are Medieval Villages and Christmas Gardens.
We walk around the stalls, where you can buy a lot of delicacies, gifts, woollens , toys, and crafts. Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol comes alive in a performance on the ice rink as the artistes bring the musical alive. The mesmerizing blues add to the surreal landscape as everything is lit in shades of blue.
A Christmas choir performs as people take time out for some Swedish fika. They even have a special Scandinavian Designer Market for Christmas.
Kronhusjul Christmas Market
Our next stop is at the Christmas Market in Kronhusbodarna, one of the oldest buildings in Gothenburg dating back to the 17th century.
While we lose ourselves in the charming hand made gifts created by the Swedes, we buy delicious chocolates and woolens.
The traditional Christmas Market, Kronhusjul is dedicated to the local craftsmen and women of Gothenburg as we walk around this historic building.
The Swedish Santa Claus
This is also where I hear about the story of the Swedish Santa.
Santa in Swedish is called Tomte or Jultomten and he is more of an elf who could become grumpy and play tricks on people.
He is not always in red but in grey and is often a guardian of a farm, looking after the people and animals. He is moody and if he is not taken well care of, he may even leave the farm.
Swedes leave a bowl of rice porridge to please him as he apparently loves the dish.He also brings gifts during Christmas and they are given on Christmas Eve.
Jul I Haga – Christmas Market
Another Christmas Market that should not be missed is the vibrant Jul I Haga, located in the oldest district of Sweden called Haga. The pedestrian street called Haga Nyaga is lined with quaint stalls selling everything from cups of hot chocolate to gnogg, hand made chocolates, decorations, gifts, woolens, arts and crafts, toys, candles and more.
The houses which are now lovely colourful shops and cafes are called “landshovdingehus” and are designed in such a way that the lower floor is built with bricks while the upper floors are built of wood. The suburb was built in the 17th century with their queen overseeing it. Haga derives its name from Hage or an enclosed field and perhaps that is how it must have looked then.
They even have a castle Skansen Kronan atop a hillock called Skansberget and you can get a great view of the city on a clear day if you manage to climb the 300 steps.
St Lucia Day in Sweden
On December 13, all of Sweden celebrate the Feast of St Lucia, a 4th-century saint, who was martyred in Rome. The story goes that Lucia was a little girl who carried food for the Christians who were persecuted in Rome. She used to light up the candles and wear them on her head and keep her hands free so that she can carry more food. Today Swedes celebrate St Lucia Day with concerts everywhere – from churches to malls to schools.
Little girls dress up as St Lucia with a crown of candles on their heads and lead the choir. We are fascinated to see a St Lucia concert inside a large aquarium in the Universeum in Gothenburg, which is also like a museum of science. It has among other things, a recreated rainforest as well with plants, animals, and birds from the habitat.
There are many more traditions in Sweden for Christmas like the Yule Goat, an invisible spirit that looks after the preparations and the Jultomten or the Swedish Santa who delivers the gifts on Christmas Eve. I am enchanted by the Christmas spirit and the Gothenburg Christmas Markets and hope that I can come back again.
Merry Christmas or god Jul as they say in Swedish !
I was in Gothenburg exploring Christmas in Sweden on invitation from Qatar Airways and Goteborgcom, the official website of Gothenburg tourism. Qatar Airways flies direct flights to Gothenburg from Doha and we flew both Economy and Business on these flights. Qatar Airways also flies every day from Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai to Doha as well. The award-winning airline flies to over 172 destinations around the world. I will be doing a detailed post on my airline experience and so, stay tuned for the same.