~* Christmas nowadays *~

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Christmas in Sweden starts with Advent, which is the await for the arrival of Jesus. The symbol for it is the Advent candlestick with four candles in it, and we light one more candle for each of the four Sundays before Christmas.

Most people start putting up the Christmas decorations on the first of Advent. We like to decorate our windows with electrical stars and candlesticks. You will see them literally everywhere! Many people put one in every window, you'll see them in homes, companies, hospitals, schools... :o)

Like in many other countries, we have something for the kids called Advent Calendars. They consist of 24 "doors" which you're supposed to open, one at the time, from the 1'st of December until Christmas Eve at the 24'th. Behind each number there can be images, toys, candy or other surprises suited for the age of the ones who open them.

The first Sunday of Advent used to be the day when the stores first put up their Christmas decorations. Some stores stick to this tradition, and it is still a big event here in Sweden. In many cities there are Christmas markets out in the streets where you can buy Christmas decorations (old fashioned ones made out of straw are really popular), crafts and trinkets, various kinds of bread and lots of other things.

This is also a day when many people go to church. The churches are illuminated with lots and lots of candles, and Christmas hymns and carols are being sung.

We usually don't decorate the tree (which is a spruce) until the day before Christmas Eve. Popular decorations are candles, items made out of straw, Christmas bulbs, tinsel, paper flags and other trinkets... The tree is usually topped with a gold or silver star.

The day before Christmas Eve many families and/or friends get together and celebrate "Little Christmas Eve". They wrap presents and try to come up with neat rhymes to go with them. The rhymes are supposed to give clues about what's inside.

This day is also called "Dip Day" (Dopparedagen), since many people boil the ham that is to be served on Christmas Day, and dip pieces of bread in the ham stock and eat. This dish is called "dipping in the pot" (dopp i grytan).

In Sweden, unlike many other Countries, the main part of Christmas is celebrated on December 24'th: Christmas Eve ("Julafton"). We usually spend it together with family and/or friends. In many families, the celebrations start at 3 PM with an hour of Donald Duck and other (mainly classical) Disney cartoons on TV. :o) After that, the order varies between different families.

In my family, the next thing we do is eat Christmas dinner, which we in Sweden call "julbord" ("Christmas table"). We usually put all the food and all the accessories on one table, in bowls and bottles, and the guests who are seated at another table, bring their plates and pick what they want to eat. You can go there as many times you want and collect more, and the meal usually goes on for hours. :o) Maybe you have heard of smorgasbord? This is the same but with Christmas related dishes.

What do we eat, you might wonder? Traditional dishes are: rice pudding, ham, meatballs, little sausages, stockfish (lye-fish), pickled herring, various kinds of cheese and rye bread flavoured with brewer's wort (vörtbröd) and other delicacies. Many people hide an almond in the bowl of rice pudding. The person who gets it in his/her plate is said to be the next one to marry...

The main course is the Julskinka (Christmas ham). Nowadays you can purchase them finished, but traditionally they took days to prepare. The ham is first cured in salt. On the day before Christmas Eve, the ham is boiled for several hours. The ham is then left in the broth overnight in a cold place. On Christmas Eve, the ham is dried, painted with a coating of egg and mustard, sprinkled with bread crums and baked at a high temperature for a short time. That will give the ham a golden brown crust and a lovely taste.

After the dinner, it's time for Jultomten (Santa). Often it's the father, a friend or a neighbour who has dressed up as Jultomten. Some families put all the presents under the Christmas tree and Jultomten hand them out from there. In others, Jultomten bring them with him in a sack. He says in a deep voice "Are there any good children here?".

When all the presents are opened, and Jultomten has left, each family have their own traditions. Some play games, some dance around the tree and sing Christmas carols, some just sit and talk and I think most people eat a lot of candy... :o)

Early the next morning, Christmas Day, many people go to church for "Julottan". It's a relic from the Middle Ages, and used to take place even earlier in the morning. In the old days people went there in horse-drawn sleighs with torches which, on their arrival, were gathered into a great bonfire at the church gate. That must have been quite a sight. The priest reads the Christmas Gospel and Christmas hymns are being sung. The rest of the day is usually spent in peace and quiet together with friends and family.

The same goes for the next day which is called St. Stephen's Day in honor of the patron saint of animals. An old tradition on this day was to give the farm animals extra food to eat.

In Sweden Christmas ends at the 13'th of January with Knut's Day. This is the day when the Christmas tree is taken down. In families with children, it's common to have a "julgransplundring" ("plundering of the tree" party). The children get to eat the candy which was used for decorating the tree, but nowadays they usually get little bags with candy instead.

In most countries, Christmas ends at the Twelth Night, so why are we celebrating it for a week longer? No one know for sure, but many believe it's because of something that is said to have been going on during the Viking era: "Midvinterblot" ("Midwinter sacrifice"). The legends say that there were human sacrifices and great feasting, which took place on 13th January. It is believed that Christian Church wanted to put a stop to it by bringing the Midwinter sacrifice into the fold of Christmas.

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