Swedish winters are long, dark, and cold, but the Swedes work hard to brighten them up—beginning in early December, when holiday decorations appear in homes and offices and city streets and squares, and restaurants set out julbords, or Christmas tables, for the entire month.
December 13 marks the season’s first nationwide year-end holiday: the Feast of Santa Lucia. Though Lucia was Sicilian, it’s not surprising that the Swedes adopted her: When she refused an arranged marriage to a heathen and her eyes were put out as punishment, she was still able to see; this won her the sobriquet of Saint of Light. In her honor, in Sweden, girls dressed in white with wreaths of candles on their heads and boys wearing tall, pointed hats wake their parents with songs and greet them with trays of coffee, holiday pastries, and, in some households, glogg—mulled wine.
Christmas Eve is the highlight of the season; gifts are opened and the most serious feasting is done. On Christmas Day, many families attend church, and make a meal of leftovers. Some families, like the Isozes, celebrate again with friends on December 26, this time with luxurious fare like lobster, fancy desserts, and champagne. New Year’s Eve is another cause for celebration, and, while most Christian countries mark the end of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6, parties continue in Sweden until January 13—the day called the Knut. On this occasion, children gather in their homes and those of friends to take down the Christmas tree and gobble up the last of the season’s confections.