& Fun Activities
Activities to learn about Sweden:
Swedes are lovers of nature and are fond of getting out to
enjoy the beauty of each season. In Sweden there is an ancient
tradition of common access known as Allemansrätten.
This access gives people the right to use and enjoy all uncultivated
land – regardless of ownership. This means anyone can
pick wildflowers, berries, mushrooms and nuts, walk, use drinking
water and camp throughout the country – even on private
property. This access also makes all responsible for the wellness
of the land and is taken quite seriously.
Although it’s probably not a great idea to go and camp
on someone else’s private property where it isn’t
a respected law and tradition, it is a great idea to get out
and enjoy nature as the Swedes do. Go for a walk and immerse
yourself in the nature you have access to. Enjoy it and revere
it, being sure to respect the land and take responsibility
for the wellness of it, just as the citizens of Sweden do.
Candle making has a strong tradition in Sweden. With the long,
dark winter nights, well-made candles were historically essential
and are associated with many of the oldest festivals.
the religious reformation in 16th Century Sweden, churches
were lit up with beeswax candles that burnt slowly while cleanly.
A colony of bees, while it only produced one pound of wax
per year, was then valued as highly as a cow. Swedish beekeeping
was extensive at this time, though Gustavus Vasa had all bee
colonies confiscated during the 16th Century and it became
far more rare after that.
Learn to make Beeswax candles at home. Supplies can be purchased on-line
or at your local craft store.
making and burning candles at home, it is strongly encouraged
that you use beeswax or vegetable-based wax instead of
paraffin, as paraffin is a petroleum by-product, proven
to contain and emit a large number of toxic substances.
Advent Calendars likely originated in Sweden and have spread
through Europe and North America as a wonderful countdown
to Christmas. The traditional advent calendars featured different
pictures of toys, holiday symbols and winter scenes for each
day from December 1st – 24th, with a nativity scene
featured on the 24th. A family advent calendar can be a wonderful
way to celebrate each day of December and can be made as gifts
for others or shared in the Earthy Family home.
Ideas for making a calendar:
Large piece of Burlap
24 Safety pins
24 Scraps of Material, cut into circles
2 Wooden dowels or lengths of branch, each about 1-2 inches
longer than the width of the burlap
one of the dowels or branches at the top edge of the burlap.
Roll it toward the center one full turn, covering the branch
with the burlap tightly. Secure with glue, repeat this process
for the bottom edge. Once the glue is dry, roll each of your
calendar stuffers in the cloth circles and secure the circle
closed and to the burlap with one safety pin each. Write the
numbers 1 - 24 on each of the rolled circles. Attach the twine
to each side of the top branch, making a loop to hang it from.
Have the calendar participants open one circle each day from
December 1st – 24th.
Other ideas for calendars:
• Make a felt base with felt pockets (these can be any
shape) stitched on with yarn
• Create a wooden chest with 24 little drawers
• Quilt a calendar with windows or pockets
• Set up a shelf with 25 mini Santa/elf hats to hide
surprises under – make the hats from felt or cloth
for Calendar stuffers:
The traditional advent calendar featured pictures for each
day. The modern version bought in discount super stores feature
cheap chocolates. Let your imagination run wild as you plan
your calendar and remember calendars can be made for children
and adults. This is a great Christmas gift to give for the
hard to buy for sibling, grandparent or friend. Make it personal
and make it fun.
For a traditional Advent Calendar featuring pictures, try
using old Christmas card pictures
• Use photos of Christmases past, or photos of the family
from throughout the year
• Write a story and allow just one paragraph or sentence
to appear in each day of the calendar
• Write out a Christmas memory for each day of the calendar
• Feature a Christmas tradition from a different area
of the world each day
• Find a poem or song for each day
• Share a recipe each day
• Write out a favourite Christmas story and divide it
between the 24 days
• Provide a different craft activity for each day, complete
• Provide a personal coupon for each day – cooking,
cleaning, babysitting, hugs, kisses, reading favourite stories
– get creative – think of your recipient’s
needs and your abilities
• Think up an outdoor activity to do together each day
Many Swedish houses contain a variety of Christmas decorations
throughout the Advent Season. One of the decorations often
on display is a beautiful Gingerbread House to represent domestic
It is best to plan for 2 - 3 days to make a gingerbread house,
so have a Gingerbread House Making Week-end.
• On the first night, make the gingerbread and refrigerate
it – this will make the dough easier to work with.
• The next day you can cut and bake the house pieces
and after it cools, assemble it. Let it harden overnight.
• The following day is decoration day – decorate
the house and yard together and make it spectacular and unique.
It is also fun to buy the decoration items together (see below
for ideas – but let imaginations run wild, too)
Ideas for creating and decorating the Gingerbread House and
• Ice-cream cones turned upside down and iced with green
icing make great trees in your gingerbread yard
• When cutting and cooking the gingerbread house, use
cookie cutters to cut out people and trees, then decorate
and place in the yard
• Use lots of white icing for snow
• Decorate with dried fruit (think apples, pineapple,
apricots, papaya, melon, orange slices, etc) and nuts and
seeds (cashews, pecans, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, pumpkin
seeds, sunflower seeds, etc) for a healthier version –
shop together to pick out your decorations
• When cutting out the shapes for the house, cut out
the windows and then cut them in half to make shutters
• With a pastry bag pipe borders around the doors and
• Drip icing from the roof edges to create icicles
• Make fences from round pretzels, licorice, cookies,
or candy canes
here for Gingerbread House Pattern
2 cups molasses or honey
1 cup vegetable oil
1¼ cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
8 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 ½ Tbsp ground allspice
1 ½ Tbsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp cinnamon
Mix ingredients together. Then chill dough overnight. Roll
out dough on lightly floured surface to about 1/8” thickness,
making sure it is large enough to cut out the gingerbread
house pieces, removing any extra dough, place on a cookie
sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove carefully
to cooling rack.
2 egg white
4 cups sifted icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
egg whites to a deep mixing bowl and beat at high speed until
they begin to foam Gradually beat in the icing sugar, beating
until it reached spreading consistency. It should be soft
enough to flow through a fine pastry tube to make the decorations,
while stiff enough to hold its shape. If needed add more lemon
juice or more sugar to create the proper consistency. Keep
the icing covered in the refrigerator until needed.
are native to Sweden and there are about 230,000 of them living
there. The Sami population is a minority population of Sweden
whose traditional occupation was breeding reindeer. The reindeer
are central to the traditional Sami culture, though only about
3000 of the 17000 Sami in Sweden are still breeding them.
Outdoor Ice and Snow Activities
In the Swedish Lapland in the village of Jukkasjärvi
you can stay at the famous Ice Hotel. Each year when the temperatures
dip to freezing the construction of the hotel begins and the
entire hotel is made out of ice and snow. The temperature
in the hotel varies from about -4ºC to about -9ºC.
The ice beds are covered with reindeer skins and feature thermal
sleeping bags and sleeping mats. The hotel can accommodate
up to 100 guests and is often booked far in advance. The hotel
also features an ice chapel, ice art exhibit hall, movie theatre
and the famous Absolut Ice Bar. Drinks are served in ice glasses.
time outdoors enjoying the snow and cold weather and have
fun with some of the following activities:
Fill spray bottles with colored water made from food coloring
or natural dyes made from water boiled with onion skins, purple
cabbage, orange peels, or beets, then paint the snow by spraying
it. Try creating a family masterpiece in the front yard!
Gather together various sizes and shapes of containers (bowls,
pails, food containers, plastic glasses, etc.) Hard pack snow
into your containers and perhaps use some of your colored
water to create some interesting colors. Turn the container
upside down and sculpt to your heart’s content.
Freeze a large block of ice. Dissolve salt in warm water in
spray bottles. Spray the ice with the salt water and it will
melt where you spray. Use your spray to shape and sculpt the
ice into your imagination’s creation
Evening of April 30th
of Valborg dates back to the Viking Era and is a festival
to honour the return of Spring. Walburga, known in Sweden
as Valborg, was a German abbess of the 8th Century and May
1st is her feast day, “Valborgsmässa”. “Afton”
means “eve” in Swedish.
Valborgsmässoafton is celebrated with large bonfires,
the singing of spring songs and the wearing of the white graduation
caps in University towns such as Uppsala and Lund. The bonfires
represent the warmth soon to come and even if the snow and
sleet are trying to put the large fires out, the celebration
is a merry one.
of lighting large bonfires on April 30th was done for two
purposes. First, it was done to scare away predators before
allowing the farm animals out to graze for the spring and
summer months. But the fires were also said to scare away
witches believed to gather on this evening to worship the
devil and therefore were necessary on a spiritual level as
Ideas for Celebrating:
Light a bonfire and sing songs of spring
with friends and loved ones.
Midsummer is a wonderful summer celebration in Sweden and
is a national holiday celebrated on the Friday closest to
June 24th. It is an ancient pagan fertility celebration, where
the Maypole symbolically impregnated Mother Nature during
the summer solstice to help provide a good harvest for the
days are at their longest during this time and nights are
very short (the sun never even sets in parts of Sweden at
this time of year).
Midsummer is still celebrated with the decorating of a Maypole
(in Swedish called a Majstång) with flowers
and leaves. It is erected in a large public gathering spot
such as the village square or a park and everyone dances and
sings around the large cross. Bonfires are also an ancient
part of the celebration that is still observed.
is a magical time and is rife with ancient traditions and
superstitions and is a very merry celebration. It was believed
that the dew of Midsummer night was magical and could be used
to cure sickness, and that if a woman collected 7 or 9 flowers
into a bouquet and put them under her pillow, she would dream
of her future husband. The traditional foods of Midsummer
are new potatoes with pickled herring and strawberries with
cream for dessert.
Ideas for celebrating:
Make a Maypole – Swedish maypoles are traditionally
cross-shaped and it is tradition that everyone helps to decorate
it with twigs, leaves and flowers. Garlands of leaves and
flowers hanging from the cross bar are wound around the vertical
pole while dancing around the pole, singing songs of summer.
flower wreaths - many people wear flower wreaths,
“Krans”, on their heads on Midsummer. A simple
daisy chain wreath can be made by making a slit in each stalk,
inserting another flower through the slit, making a slit in
that stalk and inserting another flower. Continue until you
have a chain long enough to sit atop your head, then slip
the first flower through the slit in the last stalk. Attaching
flowers, leaves and twigs to a wire wreath frame will make
a more elaborate wreath that can also be worn.
Dew – the dew of Midsummer is believed to have
magical properties and possesses the ability to heal illness.
Of course it requires getting up quite early to catch the
dew, and whether or not it is magical will be irrelevant because
if you’re up early collecting it, it will become magical.
St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated on December 13th. According
to the legend, Lucia was a young Christian woman who gave
away her dowry to the poor, feeding the hungry with shiploads
of food. A crown of evergreens with four candles symbolizes
her halo and some believe this is where the advent wreath
of St. Lucia is much loved in Sweden. Young girls dress in
white on St. Lucia’s Day and wearing the St. Lucia crown,
they serve Lussekatter (Lucia’s cats), a sweet saffron
bun, and glögg, a mulled wine, to their elders. Groups
of girls dressed in white (tärnor) and boys dressed as
star-boys (stjärngossar) accompany the girl with St.
Lucia’s halo to visit schools, hospitals and churches
singing songs and offering the Lussekatter and glögg
or coffee to all.
It was believed that this was the shortest day and longest
night of the year, and thus the festivities represent the
hope of the returning sun to a dark Swedish winter.
Ideas for celebrating:
Make glögg – although this is traditionally an
alcoholic drink, it can be made with non-alcoholic wine or
apple cider for the whole family to enjoy. Perhaps the children
of the family want to dress in white and act as tärnor
and stjärngossar to serve it?
Christmas is the most important religious festival in Sweden
today. Celebrations start at the beginning of December and
continue until January 13th.
Season is the countdown to Christmas. Advent
Calendars and advent wreaths are traditional items of
Sweden. The advent wreaths date back to the pre-Christian
celebrations encouraging the sun to return to the world with
gathered evergreen wreaths and lighted fires. Christians continued
these traditions and the advent wreath currently in use is
thought to stem directly from the Swedish St.
Lucia crowns. The four candles in the evergreen advent
wreath are lit on the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas –
one on the first Sunday, two on the second, and so on. The
first Sunday of the advent season is also when Christmas trees
are put up in town squares and along streets.
Eve (December 24 - Julafton) is the start of Christmas in Sweden and when most of the celebrations occur. The family Christmas
tree is decorated in the morning and at about 3:00 pm, the
Christmas smörgåsbord is feasted upon. This elaborate
meal is followed by a visit from Tomte, the Christmas gnome
(Santa’s Swedish counterpart) who delivers presents
to the children. Christmas porridge
is served, as it is Tomte’s favourite food.
legend of Tomte has altered through the years, and he is sometimes
now called Jultomte, to differentiate him from the house gnome,
or hus tomte, that used to be placated at Christmas with a
bowl of the Christmas porridge to create goodwill throughout
the year. Read Astrid Lindgren’s Tomten
for the story of this folk legend.**
Day is usually spent quietly, with church in the morning and
time with the family for the rest of the day.
season is officially over on Knut’s Day, January 13th
and this is when the Christmas tree is taken down and the
edible decorations are eaten.
Ideas for Celebrating:
Incorporate a Swedish tradition or 2 into your holiday celebrations.
Check out the activities section for ideas on:
• Gingerbread Houses
• Reindeer Crafts
• Ice Play
• Advent Calendars
Make Christmas porridge
Each day of the calendar has a name associated with it according
to Swedish tradition. Children used to be given the name of
the day they were born on so their Namesday was also their
birthday. As this tradition changed and children were given
names chosen by their families, both Namesdays and birthdays
were celebrated. This tradition is still celebrated by some
Swedes with flowers and cards sent to celebrants on Namesday,
though there has been no official Namesday listing since 1901.