Sounds dramatic, I know.
Up until yesterday I thought it was an old tradition of the past; some obscure thing I had read about while doing research on Christmas when I first moved here. Then when sitting around for morning fika on Friday, my co-worker mentioned she was going to a Julgransplundringsfest (“Christmas tree plundering party”) this weekend, which piqued my interest.
Tomorrow, the 13th of January, or the twentieth day of Christmas as we call it (“Tjugondedag” or “Tjugondedag jul” or “Tjugondag knut” or “Knutsdag”), is the last day of Christmas here in Sweden. Unlike the majority of other countries that put away their decorations on Epiphany, the 6th of January, we get one more whole week with ours! Its not that we don’t observe Epiphany here; we do (even though Sweden is a secular country with 55% of the population reporting as “nonreligious”). In fact, its a national holiday called “Trettonsdag” (“The thirteenth day” as in the 13th day of Christmas- not to be confused with the “twentieth day” which falls on the 13th of January…confused yet?) Instead of taking advantage of that national holiday (which means most have day off of work) to take down Christmas decorations, its tradition to wait a week until Knutsdag (Knut being the name of a Danish king, later declared a saint, who would notoriously ask farmers to help him wrap up holiday season).
So, what does one do on knutsdag or at a julgransplundring aside from putting away their decorations? It’s a little more special than that, because you are saying farewell to Christmas. In the old days, children would run to their neighbors to “ropa ut julen” (“To call out Christmas”) essentially declaring its over, and while doing so they would be asking for any left over food and drink from the festivities. It was a day where one would “Kasta ut granen” (“Throw out the tree”) quite literally throwing the trees from windows and balconies, littering the street. Nowadays, its a phrase still used but its done in a more organised manner (and more people own reusable artificial trees). If dumped correctly, some towns use the discarded trees for the bonfires at Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) in the spring.
So, what is Julgransplundring? And how does one plunder a tree? Its simple, it all depends on what you put on the tree to begin with. It’s where you get together and feast upon all the edible stuff you hung up on the tree a month ago, or decorated with in general. This is also known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”). Its time to eat all the candy canes (polkagris), apples, chocolates, caramels, candy ornaments, and of course the beloved gingerbread house! Some households might even cook Christmas food (again!) to enjoy one last time.
The looting of everything edible left over from Christmas can also be accompanied by songs and games.
“Snart är glada julen slut, slut, slut.
Julegranen bäres ut, ut, ut.
Men till nästa år igen,
kommer han vår gamle vän –
ty det har han lovat.”
There’s also the tradition of Dansa ut julen “Dancing out Christmas” which means to dance around the Christmas tree before you toss it out the window (or store it in the attic) to say goodbye to the Christmas season. Some towns in Sweden even hold a public event for the occasion: