It may surprise many people when they go to Scandinavia to find that Christmas is celebrated on December 24, not December 25. December 25 can be a quiet day in these countries.
Norway, Denmark, and Sweden celebrate Christmas on December 24 because Christmas day was permanently reserved as a holy day. The Scandinavians also celebrate on the eve of a holy day and not on the holy day itself. Many Scandinavians would attend a church service mass on Christmas morning.
Scandinavians Celebrations On The Eve
Scandinavian traditions celebrate their holy days on the eve before what is known as the holy day. For example, Midsummer is not celebrated on Midsummer day, but it’s celebrated and Midsummer’s eve.
All Saints Day it’s celebrated on the day but the day before they put candles on the graves of those who have passed on – they do it on the eve of All Saints Day.
Christmas Eve is one of the oldest holidays celebrated throughout Scandinavia, and it is celebrated on Christmas Eve and not on Christmas day. That is because the day is usually reserved as a Holy day or a day of worship.
Even though many in Scandinavian do not attend church, they continue to adhere to these traditions. Christmas Eve is an example of these traditions as in most Scandinavian it is celebrated on December 24.
That is quite a common practice throughout Europe. In Germany, for example, Christmas Eve is also the day when the families all gather together and exchange gifts.
Christmas Day Is A Holy Day
When my mother was a child in Stockholm, Sweden, she remembers attending a church service on Christmas Day. Christmas Day was a tranquil day. She said most of the music on the radio was always classical music. It was also a very simple day, and they ate leftover food. It was not a day to visit anyone or have parties but instead was a quiet day at home.
Because of this tradition, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden will have their Christmas parties on December 24 and sometimes even the day after Christmas or December 26, but they do not have them on December 25. That is because Christmas day is traditionally a holy day.
Christmas Day And A Swedish Church Service
In Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, December 25 was traditionally considered a holy day. They would start the day by going to a church service early in the morning.
Even though I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I spent many Christmas mornings getting up early to attend a church service in Swedish at a church near my home. In Swedish, this church service is called “Julotta.”
In Sweden, this church service was held on December 25 at 7 am. Sometimes the services would be held as early as 4 am. Many of the services started at 4 am because they believed that the service should begin and end before dawn arrived.
Even though I am not Lutheran, I have always enjoyed attending the Swedish mass or Julotta service on Christmas day. I found it was a great way to start Christmas day.
In the olden days, Christmas Day was also one of the most important days to attend church. The ride to church would be a festive one. We have some old pictures of our relatives, including my mother, taking a sleigh and riding to the church on Christmas morning.
In Sweden, December mornings are dark and cold. They would be lots of candlelights to light the way. That made for an extra beautiful ride in the quiet of the Christmas morning as Swedes, and other Scandinavians got up to attend church.
The ride to church in the Christmas sleigh happened deliberately slow ride so that you could see all your neighbors also on the way to church; the ride home was opposite. The person who could get home from this Christmas service first would be the first one that would have the harvest in the following summer.
We can only imagine the mad dash that everyone made to get out of the church and get home. They would run out the door to be the first person to be home so that they could say that their harvest would be the first harvest in that following year. How much fun that must have been to see the sleighs racing through the snow by the morning moonlight.
Bells Ring Out In Norway
In Norway, Christmas Eve celebrations start at 5 pm; the Christmas bells will ring out to signify the start of Christmas Eve. Most people will have dinner and Christmas celebrations with family or friends.
Because this is such an important holiday for the Norwegians, most restaurants and pubs will close on Christmas Eve. The streets usually are extremely quiet as most people are home celebrating.
Dancing On Christmas Eve
In many Scandinavian homes, they celebrate Christmas Ever with a large dinner, . In my family, we always had a massive buffet with all kinds of Swedish food.
The celebrations would start as we turn on the Christmas music and dance around the Christmas tree. Yes, it is common for families and friends to hold hands and dance traditional dances as you sing along with the Christmas songs.
Father Christmas Visits The Family
As they finish up the dancing, they will hear a loud knock on the door. Father Christmas has brought presents for the children. He will distribute them to the children on Christmas Eve.
There is no magic, no cookies, and milk left for Santa Claus, no Santa Claus climbing down the chimney.
Instead, an older male member of the family and uncle, a dad, or grandpa will dress up in the traditional red or white clothes and distribute the gifts.
There is something very magical about celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve and reserving Christmas as a quiet day of reflection. You gather as a family on the 24th, and then on the 25th, you can reflect more upon what Christmas means to you.
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