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23rd February, 2023

Spend a White Christmas in Scandinavia

In December 2023, Saga’s boutique ship Spirit of Discovery will be venturing north to experience a true ‘White Christmas’, discovering the festive traditions of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

The Norse Traditions of a Norwegian Christmas

Go Christmas shopping in Oslo

In the run-up to the main celebrations, Christmas markets pop up around Norway selling festive treats, drinks and artisan gifts. While the cold Scandinavian air bites at your nose, you can sip on a warming cup of gløgg, a spiced non-alcoholic drink similar to mulled wine.

For something with a bit more heat, a glass of the traditional akevitt (likened to a spiced vodka) should warm your spirits! At a Norwegian Christmas market you’re also sure to find an abundance of marzipan. In fact, the marzipan manufacturer, Nidar, estimates that over 40 million marzipan figures are consumed by Norway’s 5 million people over the festive period.

During December, Norway decorates with gnome-like figures called nisser, friendly creatures found in Norse folklore. Santa Claus is not the main Christmas icon in Norway; instead, the julenisse (‘gift-bearing nisse’) will deliver the presents. Interestingly, the tree isn’t decorated until December 23rd during Lille Julaften, or ‘Little Christmas Eve’ when the family come together to adorn the tree.

However, Christmas Eve is more important than the 25th. Typically, the Norwegian Christmas dinner will include dried fish (lutefisk and rakfisk), dried meat (Pinnekjøt), potatoes and the most common dish, ribbe, or seasoned pork. Spirit of Discovery will be docked in Oslo for this special day, so at 5pm listen out for ringing church bells and singing choirs, announcing the official start to the holiday. What could be a more joyous start to Christmas?

The Festive Sights and Sounds of Sweden

Experience Stockholm's festive atmosphere

Sweden follows many of the same Christmas traditions as Norway, like celebrating on Christmas Eve, enjoying gløgg and believing in the tomte, the Swedish nisser. There are, however, some customs that are local to Sweden. The Swedish generally prefer more rustic décor, with hand-made decorations, foliage wreaths and straw ornaments.

Another important Swedish decoration is the hyacinth, which adds a burst of colour to the dark Scandinavian winter. You can shop for these natural trimmings while exploring the cosmopolitan streets of Gothenburg on Boxing Day.

When visiting Sweden, you’ll be amazed at how wonderfully decorated the towns are. On the first Sunday of advent, Swedish shop fronts are decorated with beautiful lights and displays for Julskyltningen.

In December the sun rises at about 8:30am in Stockholm, only to set again at 2:45pm, so the twinkling lights illuminate the city with a festive glow – a wonderful sight to see throughout the month.

Like Norway, the main celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. First, the main dinner (the Julbord) is served, comprising Christmas ham (Julskinka), sausage, an egg and anchovy mixture (gubbröra), rye bread and dried fish.

After dinner presents are opened, involving another Swedish tradition. Gifts are wrapped with simple paper and often include a little festive rhyme or joke to hint at what’s inside – perhaps a tradition you could try while sailing to Sweden on Christmas Day.

Dancing around the Christmas Tree in Denmark

Amagertorv Square in Copenhagen, Denmark

Like many countries, the Danes celebrate mainly on December 24th. A common tradition is for families to hold hands and walk around the tree while singing Christmas songs before opening the gifts.

After the dancing, singing and gift-opening, it’s time for dinner. The Danish Christmas dinner resembles the British Christmas dinner more than then other Scandinavian countries, featuring roast pork, duck, potatoes, red cabbage and gravy.

You’ll find the Danish Christmas trees decorated with plenty of warm white lights and even real candles, casting a hygge (cosy) glow. The beautiful Christmas market of Aarhus and Copenhagen will be illuminated in a similar fashion, with plenty of mulled wine, gløgg and sweet treats to warm you up.

Cruise this December

If the cosy festivities of Norway, Sweden and Denmark have fired up the Christmas spirit in you, why not join Spirit of Discovery this year and experience a Scandinavian Christmas for yourself?

Sip on gløgg while strolling through the picturesque markets, sample some festive delicacies and search for some artisan gifts to take home, wrapped up with a rhyme.

To find out more about Saga’s Christmas cruises 2023. 

Written by Hannah Lilly

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.