Swedish Family Traditions

Swedish Christmas Traditions & Recipes

(this is a work in progress, please excuse the interruptions in text)

PLEASE READ ALL DIRECTIONS FOR RECIPES included in this blog: for ingredient lists, method and baking/cooking directions before beginning. 


A Swedish Christmas typically begins with the 4th Sunday prior to Christmas Eve...its the beginning of Advent. Begin by lighting the first candle of the Advent. There are four candles. Each Sunday you light the first, along with the subsequent candles until all four are lit ...and don't forget to light them on Christmas Eve!!!

While others are out shopping and fighting the Black Friday crowds after Thanksgiving, I am putting up my tree, digging out the advent candles and begin my holiday baking and candy making. After all, must have Lucia buns, and cookies baked in time for December 13th! 


On December 13th, which had been the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, on the old calendar, the Swedes celebrate St. Lucia Day. There are many legends regarding St. Lucia...but you may ask why is a Sicilian Saint being celebrated in Sweden?
My granddaughter, Alexis, and niece, Sophia dressed for the Lucia pageant
When I was in high school, many moons ago, I wrote a research paper on Swedish Traditions and St. Lucia.    The following are excerpts from that research paper: (looking through my old boxes of memories to find this report so I can share).

Typically, its the oldest unmarried daughter in the home (or mother if there are no daughters) arises early, before the sun rises, dressed in a gown of white with a red sash and a crown of candles, representing St. Lucia, and serves the family coffee and saffron buns. Schools, businesses, and even hospitals in Sweden will pause and take a break to celebrate St. Lucia. There may also beauty pageants to select a St. Lucia.

Lucia is usually followed by her attendants, girls who dress similarly but without a crown of candles or sash of red, like angels they are. Star boys, dressed in white wearing white cone hats painted in stars and carrying large stars on poles, represent the heavens and the Star of Bethlehem are often in the St. Lucia procession. Sometimes a cute little Tomte will bring up the rear. All while singing the wonderful sweet song of Santa Lucia...and yes, its the same Sicilian tune, but in Swedish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk0FyZqNp5Q

English Translation of St. Lucia Lyrics

The night goes with weighty step
round yard and (stove i.e. house, hearth)
round earth, the sun departs
leave the woods brooding
There in our dark house,
appears with lighted candles
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
The night goes great and mute
now hear it swings
in every silent room
murmurs as if from wings.
Look at our threshold stands
white-clad with lights in her hair
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
The darkness shall soon depart
from earth's valleys
thus she speaks
a wonderful word to us
The day shall rise anew
from the rosy sky.
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

We have been allowing all the young girls in the family to practice and take turns as Lucia, but we have a family party in the evening instead. We don't drink coffee, so we serve hot cocoa and Pero. We also serve the different types of sweet rolls, cakes and cookies.

LUCIA SAFFRON BUNS - Saffron, the yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), is the world's most expensive spice. ... Pure saffron is made up of tiny, bright-red threads. The redder the saffron, the higher the quality. http://whatscookingamerica.net/saffron.htm it is more expensive by ounce than gold. So be careful when baking with saffron. Its a pretty penny. In history, back way before even I was born..in the dark ages, saffron was used as a drug to cause abortions. But please, don't try it at home! This is my disclaimer. I have ruined this recipe by using too hot of water. So learn from me, be careful and make sure it is luke warm.

2 TBLS dry yeast, dissolve in 1/2 Cup of  luke warm water.
2 Cups warm milk (luke warm)
1/3 Cup of sugar
1/3 Cup butter
1 tsp salt
5-6 Cups of all-purpose white flour
1 egg, beaten
1 gram of saffron, grind in mortar and pestle with 1 tsp of sugar until powdered.
Raisins (optional)
Almond paste (Marzipan - optional)
Perl Sugar (available at IKEA)

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the luke warm water. 
  2. Melt the butter and add the 2 Cups of milk.
  3. Allow the milk and butter mixture to cool to luke warm temperature.
  4. Add sugar, salt, saffron into the bowl, and beaten egg. (add raisins if using)
  5. Add flour a little at at time, saving some flour for kneading.
  6. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board.
  7. Scrape bowl clean and grease it with butter. 
  8. Return the dough to the bowl, turn the dough over to cover the dough with butter.
  9. Cover and let rise until double in size. Let it rise in a warm (not hot) place.
  10. Take out dough and knead lightly, let rest on the board for 10 minutes. 
  11. Cut the dough in half, and work with half of the dough at one time.
  12. Form into shapes for buns. You can add some marzipan to the center of round shaped rolls if you like.
  13. Using a beaten egg, brush on top of unbaked rolls and sprinkle some perl sugar on top.
  14. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes. 


Swedish Julbord
It's Christmas Eve, get your table ready to serve a traditional Swedish Smorgasbord...with an assortment of breads and cheeses, Swedish cured ham,  franks, boiled red potatoes, pickled herring, beet salads, cold poached salmon, crispbreads with butter and white cheese, as well as an oven baked crab omelet. There is also a traditional potato gratin dish called Jansson's Temptation, the dish, made up of julienned potatoes and anchovies topped with bread crumbs and cream, cooked until brown and bubbly. And of course, Swedish meatballs and a side of lingon berry jam. And last but not least, rice pudding for dessert.
Traditional Rice Pudding

The Swedes serve many different types of cakes, cookies and pastries during the Christmas season. Haven't had any I didn't like. On Saint Lucia day, celebrated on December 13th, we serve Lucia buns along with 7 different types of cookies, 7 different being that it will bring the home good luck in the new year. In the old days a visitor to a house was not allowed to leave without eating or drinking something “otherwise the Christmas spirit would leave the house". So start baking and cooking early. Some items can be frozen ahead of time and thawed the night before the big feast.


Welcome guests with a warm toasty cup of sweet spicy glogg. Serve it with blanched almonds and raisins on the side in small glogg cups. (I love purchasing Swedish items from http://www.hemslojd.com/, I have purchased a few Lucia crowns, advent candles and gifts from them; they also carry glogg serving pieces). 

There are several courses to this Julbrod. So take breaks in-between courses to dance to traditional Swedish folk music, sing Christmas carols, or play some card games, like rummy or something entertaining for the little ones or just visit with your loved ones...the dancing however, will help to burn some of the calories you will be consuming.  Most of the recipes I have listed have been translated from Swedish to English measurements.

Start with the assorted Swedish breads, which include the Swedish rye crisp bread, Tea Cakes, Limpa, and Kavring along with cheeses, like Fontina, Havarti, and Farmers cheeses, and sandwich meats, such as beef stick and liverwurst. Most are available at your local deli.

Next its time to serve the fish, we keep the bread, cheeses, and meats on the server throughout the feast. But add the pickled herring with boiled red potatoes served with a side of sour cream and chives. Also add smoked salmon (Costco has a very good one), sardines in tomato sauce is wonderful on the crisp rye bread. You can serve the Crab Omelette along side the Jansson's Temptation as well. (We count it since it has fish in the dish).

Third course, its time to bring out the Swedish ham, meatballs, frankfurters, the apple and beet salad, prunes, and applesauce.

Last, but not least, the dessert. Rice pudding with raspberry sauce...or if you prefer, cinnamon and sugar.

LINGON GLOGG (non alcoholic) In the past, I was able to pick up bottles of glogg from IKEA...alas, no longer...sad day for all of us...so make sure you complain to your local IKEA store!
1 small bottle cranberry juice
1 whole stick cinnamon
1 whole pice of ginger
5 whole cloves
1 Tbls of frozen concentrated orange juice
sugar to taste

Combine the ingredients in a kettle let come to a boil. Let spices steep for at leat 1/2 hour with a lid on. Serve warm with blanched almonds and raisins. Provide each guest with a spoon.

*Note for following bread recipes: to prepare bread pans or cookie sheets for bread baking, butter and sprinkle baking sheet with corn meal. Shape loaves into rounds or oblong. 

TEKAKOR - (or Tea Cakes - A round shaped white bread, a childhood favorite of mine).
2 Cups of milk
6 TBLS margarine/butter
1 TBLS sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pkg fast acting yeast
2 3/4 - 3 cups of flour

Melt margarine(butter), add milk and warm up to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in a little warm water(about 1/4 cup). Put yeast into a large bowl, stir in milk mixture, a little at a time. Stirring to distribute yeast. Add sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve.. Add the flour, a cupful at at time. Knead until it is elastic. Grease bowl, let dough rise until double. Dump dough out on a floured board. Divide dough in half. Put one half back in the bowl. Divide each half into 6 round pieces. Roll out to round cakes about 6-8 inches in diameter. Place cakes on a cookie sheet. Use a fork to prick the tops of each of the cakes. Repeat with other half of dough. Let rise. Bake at 375-400F for 12 minutes.

SWEDISH LIMPA BREAD - (rye with orange peel)
1/4 Cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 Cup light molasses
1/4 Cup margarine
1 TBLS salt
1 tsp anise seed crushed
2 TBLS grated orange peel
1 Cup boiling water
1/2 Cup warm water
2 TBLS dry yeast
5 Cups of all purpose white flour
4 Cups of rye flour

  1. Combine sugar, molasses, margarine, salt, anise seed, and orange peel. Add 1 Cup of boiling water, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add 1 Cup of cold water. 
  2. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 Cup of warm water, add to molasses mixture and stir well. 
  3. Gradually add 5 Cups white flour and 1 Cup of the rye flour. Beast vigorously until smooth and dough leaves sides of bowl. 
  4. Gradually add remaining rye flour. (dough will be stiff).
  5. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes)
  6. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turn dough over, so dough is covered in grease.
  7. Cover and let rise 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Bake 375F for 35 minutes.
  8. Cover with foil the last 10 minutes of baking. 

KAVRING - (rye with fennel and anise)
1 2/3 Cups water
1 1/2 TBLS dry yeast
1/3 Cup molasses  or dark baking syrup
3 TBLS white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground fennel (freshly ground is best, time to dig out the mortar and pestle).
1 tsp anise (freshly ground)
4 to 4 1/3 Cups rye flour (medium ground)
1 2/3 Cups white all purpose flour

  1. Stir the yeast in a little warm water. Warm the rest of the water with the molasses or dark syrup.
  2. Pour over the yeast and add the vinegar and the spices.
  3. Add the white flour then the rye flour a little at a time. Knead well.
  4. Form into one long loaf or short loaves.
  5. Let rise in greased loaf pans, until double. 
  6. Bake in greased bread pans 325F for 1 hour, brushing with warm water a couple of times while baking as well as after they are removed from the oven once baking is complete. It should sound hollow when tapped. Roll up in a baking towel when done to cool. 


My mother, Marie-Louise, slices up my first ham.
Order your Swedish Ham in advance, right after Thanksgiving. Swedish ham is specially cured in a brine. Unlike other hams...its the best! If available, also order your other meats, the blend of ground meat for the Kottbullar and the frankfurters. The day before you are to eat the ham, you need to cook it. Traditionally its cooked on December 23rd. First thing in the morning you need to get it into the oven. A 15 lb ham takes approx. 9 hours to reach 77C...or use your meat thermometer for fresh ham. It takes 20-25 minutes per pound, but be sure to use your gage on the thermometer to be accurate.

  1. Rinse off the ham in cold water, it has been in a salt/sugar brine. Place ham on a rack in a pan lined with foil.
  2. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the ham, without touching a bone.
  3. Bake on the lowest rack in oven until done. Promptly remove from the oven.
  4. Remove the rind and discard, be careful it is hot. trim off the fat.
  5. Brush with the following recipe: 1 egg yolk, 1 Tbls prepared Swedish mustard, 1 Tbls sugar 
  6. 2 Tbls bread crumbs, finely ground, sprinkle over mustard mixture.
  7. Return the ham to the oven at 350F for about 15 minutes until nicely golden brown.
  8. Let ham cool off some, before covering with aluminum foil and put into the fridge until the next day. Slice up thinly before serving. Serve with apple sauce, prunes and Swedish mustard.

Make a syrup by boiling: water and sugar together. Put prunes into a large Mason jar and pour the syrup over. Place lid over keeping in the fridge for 2 weeks. So you an definitely make this in advance.

KOTTBULLAR  - Swedish Meatballs (freezes well).
2 lb hamburger meat
1/2 C fine bread crumbs
1 C water
1 onion grated
2 tsp salt or more to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg
  1. In a bowl put the bread crumbs, 3/4 cup of the water and stir. Let it soak up the water for 1/2 hour.
  2. In a bowl add the bread crumb mixture, the salt and pepper, and the grated onion.
  3. Add the meat and the raw egg.
  4. Mix thoroughlywith a fork and the rest of the water if needed. It should be quite loose, but enough to hold the shape of a ball.
  5. Rinse a plate with cold water and rinse your hands with cold water as well, so meat won't stick.
  6. Fry the meatballs a little at a time in margarine. It's easier to get them nicely shaped if you don't have the frying pan more than half full. If there is a buildup in the pan. Clean out between batches of frying.

JANSSONS FRESTELSE - Janssons Temptation
5-6 raw potatoes, peeled and sliced into matchstick size
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 small can of Swedish anchovies,  reserve liquid
1 1/2 C canned milk

Layer in an oven proof dish, potatoes, anchovies and onion. Repeat layers, ending with potatoes. Pour reserved liquid from anchovies over the potatoes and then add the canned milk. Add a couple of pats of margarine on top. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the poatoes. Bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour.

INLAGD SILL - Pickled Herring
2 Fillets of Herring sliced on the diagonal 1/4 inch wide
1 red onion, sliced
10 whole allspice, crushed
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 TBLS white vinegar
1/2 Cup water
5 TBLS sugar

Boil water, sugar and vinegar. Add the spices. Let cool completely before pouring over the sliced herring. Cover and put in the refrigerator, for at least 24 hours before serving. The marinade should cover the herring. If not double the  marinade.

Serve with boiled red potatoes, sour cream and chives.

1 1/2 - 1 3/4 Cup Milk
3 eggs
3 Tbls flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbls margarine

Let milk come to a boil, or the omelet will become watery. Beat eggs, flour and salt. Pour the hot milk into the egg mixure while stirring. Pour itno a buttered 9 x 13 inch glass pan. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F.

For the crab -

2 Tbls margarine
3 Tbls flour
1 1/4 Cup liquied from whatever your filling is like from canned crab  milk to make 1 1/4 cup. salt, pepper and dill to taste.

Melt margarine, add the flour while stiring until thick. Slowly add the liquid, while cooking and stirring. Cook until a thick gravy. Right before serving add the crab to the hot gravy. Pour over the omelet after it is cooked, and serve. (Cooked asparagus can be substituted for the crab).

1 1/3 C water
1 tsp salt
1 Tbls margarine
2/3 C "round grain" rice
3 Cups milk
1Tbls sugar
1 cinnamon stick
whipped cream

Boil water, salt and margarine* add the rice and let simmer covered for 10 minutes. Add some of the milk and stir and continue to cook on very low heat adding the milk as it absorbs the liquid, stir with a wooden spoon. When done, add the sugar (more to taste). Serve with sugar and cinnamon. * If you like the taste of cinnamon, you can add a stick while the rice is cooking. Be sure to hide a blanched almond in one of the serving bowls. Its a tradition, whoever gets the almond will either get married in the coming year or a gift can be prepared and given. (Or serve with Raspberry Sauce below).

1 pkg Raspberry Danish Dessert
1 pkg frozen Raspberries

Follow the directions on the package for the Danish Dessert. While warm, stir in the frozen raspberries. If there is a lot of juice in the berries, take account for that and use less water when preparing the Danish Dessert. Could use the recipe for pudding instead of sauce.


HAVREFLARN - Oatmeal Lace Cookies ( my daughter's, Haley's, favorite)
7 Tbls margarine or butter
1 1/4 C oatmeal
1 egg
2/3 C sugar
1 Tbls flour
1 tsp baking powder

Put oatmeal in a bowl, pour melted margarine over and stir and let it sit for while. Meanwihile, beat the egg and sugar until fluffy. Add to the oatmeal mixture and stir. Drop on a prepared sheet (use either parchment paper that has been dusted with flour or butter & flour a cookie sheet) with a teaspoon about 3 inches apart. These cookies spread! Bake at 325F for 10 minutes.

14 Tbls butter (no substitutes)
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups + 2 Tbls flour

Melt the butter and slightly brown it, be sure not to burn. This can take a while. So be patient. Pick up the pan and "swirl" the butter around. Let it cool. I put mine in the fridge til it "re-hardens".  Pour into mixing bowl, stir in sugar and vanilla. Add the flour and baking powder. Roll into balls, no more than an inch in diameter. Bake at 250-260F for 25-30 minutes. The cookies should be fluffy and have a "sandlike" consistency. If the oven is too hot, the cookies will be hard.

MAZARINER -Almond flavored tart, a favorite among our family and friends. There is also a "Poor Man's version made with mashed potatoes. (Post a comment if you would like that version).
2 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbl sugar
15 Tbls butter
1 egg
Mix the above into a dough, not working it too much. Let it rest in the fridge a couple of hours
Press the dough into the butterend forms or a buttered mini muffin pan.
2 1/4 Cups almonds then grind up into a fine powder Measure almonds before grinding
5 Tbls butter, melted and cooled
3 eggs
3/4 Cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
Beat eggs with sugar until frothy. Add the ground almonds, then add the cooled off butter.
Then fill the pastry cups with the filling and bake. Bake at 390 to 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Release from pan immediately. When cool, glaze with a mixture of powder sugar and water
and 1 tsp almond extract.It's a lot of work but they are goooood!

BANDKAKOR - Farmer's cookies

15 TBLS of margarine or butter
1 TBLS Lyle's golden syrup (a Canadian brand) or you can pick up a bottle of dark baking syrup from IKEA, brand name is Dan Sukker.  It must be a dark baking syrup made from sugar beets).
3/4 Cup - 1 cup of sugar (I measure between the two marks)
1/3 Cup chopped almonds
2 1/2 Cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBLS water

First, mix margarine, sugar, syrup, baking soda, water and almonds. Then mix in the flour. Form into long rolls about 1 1/2 inches thick in diameter. Place rolls onto a cutting board, wrap with plastic wrap and chill in fridge until hard. Once they have hardened, remove from fridge, slice about 1/4 inch thick. Place on cookie sheets and bake at 350F for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on cookie sheets. They improve the light caramel flavor over the next few days. Store in an airtight cookie tin.

My dining room wall decked out for the holidays
Swedish Pepparkakor 
or Swedish Gingerbread

I served the Nora Fine Pepparkakor at our company Christmas Traditions party...it was gone within an hour.
One of our all time favorites, a Swedish gingerbread...served warm with butter or whipped cream...and a cup of Pero...Yummy...the scent will permeate your home with holiday spices. I also save some for Christmas morning brunch. You can double the recipe if needed for a larger bundt cake pan.
Miranda was in awe of the Christmas Tree

2 cups loosely measured brown sugar
3 eggs
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
3/4 t ground cardamon (optional)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sour cream ...mix with milk
1/2 cup milk....

2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 t baking soda

Beat eggs until frothy. Add brown sugar, gradually beat for 5 minutes. Mix flour, spices and baking soda in a seperate bowl. Add sour cream/milk alternately with flour/spices beating in between.
Then add vegetable oil and mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

(Adapted from Nora's Fine Pepparkaka from San Rafael Stake, Calif. it called for 1/2 cup of butter instead of vegetable oil. The vegetable oil is better).

MORMOR ELSA'S PEPPARKAKOR - (Mother's Mother Elsa's Gingerbread Cookies) My Swedish Grandmother's recipe. 
These cookies can be a bit tricky...they are much like the thin crispy gingerbread cookie, Anna's, that you can purchase at IKEA or your local grocery store...but so much better...keep the dough in the fridge and roll out a little at a time...I haven't been able to get the right thinness? or thickness? without having my mother by my side. I have also halved the recipe because it makes a TON!!! It has been translated from Swedish to English measurements.

1 1/2 cubes butter
1 heaping cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 TBLS cinnamon
1/2 TBLS ginger
1/2 TBLS ground cloves
1/2 TBLS baking soda
3 1/8 cups flour

Grease cookie sheet first time only! Heat syrup, sugar and spices. Stir with wooden spoon until sugar melts, but don't boil. Take off heat. Add butter and stir til melted. Then add the cream, when the mixture has cooled off, work in the flour. Save a bit of the flour for rolling out the dough. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator over night. Cut off a little of the dough  at a time and roll out thin. 1/8" thin. Cut shapes with a cookie cutter. *The heart shape is a traditional Scandinavian Christmas Wish Cookie shape. Bake at 350F for 5 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet. (If for some reason the cookies don't turn out, try baking at 400F for 3 minutes).

*For making that wish with the heart shaped cookie, place the cookie in the palm of your hand, close your eyes and make a wish. Tap the center of the cookie to break. If it breaks into three pieces...your wish will come true...still waiting for some of mine...but its fun tradition.

When I get around to baking this holiday season, I will be uploading photos so you can get an idea of what they should look like.

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