Something Swedish


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The Plundering of the Tree

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).

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Image: Wikipedia “Knut’s dance or Dancing out Christmas, by Swedish artist Hugo Hamilton (1802–1871)”

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.

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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.

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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:

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Join us dance out Christmas! Maud Mithande leads the dance around the tree, there will be free warm drink and gingerbread cookies and every child gets a candy bag to bring home”


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Swedish Advent: A Christmas Countdown

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Today is the fourth advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, the day for lighting the fourth and final candle of the adventsljusstake. Christmas is almost here.

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Four Sundays before Christmas (somewhere between the 27 nov -3 dec) the long, dark, cold nights leading up to winter solstice are brightened by the appearance of glowing Christmas stars and advent decorations illuminating the windows of almost every store, office building and home. While walking down any street at all, the collective and uniform effect of all these lights creates the magical, warm coziness of Christmas.

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The electric advent decorations are typically five or seven lights instead of four, giving a symmetrical triangular shape, perfect for displaying in windows.

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And so, the first advent candle is lit – but not for too long, it has to last for four weeks. Glögg med russin och mandel (mulled wine  with raisins and almonds) is warmed on stove-tops and enjoyed with pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and lussebullar (Saffron buns). Advent presents are stuffed into stockings each sunday leading up to Christmas, building to the anticipation.

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The well-known tradition of advent calendars is taken one step further than the joy of opening  cardboard windows to reveal a piece of chocolate everyday. On the first of December stores reveal their version – a julkalender (Christmas calendar) to showcase what super-deals they have to offer each of the 24 days. The local TV channel TV4 has a tradition of airing a different “Julkalender” every year – a mini series with a new episode each day at the same time (25 minutes) for the children (and adults) to enjoy while waiting for the big day to arrive.

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How do you celebrate the advents? We dedicate these sundays to christmas-y things: putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, going Christmas shopping (most stores are closed on Sundays in Sweden – but are open on the advents!), visiting julmarknad (Christmas markets), watching Christmas movies, having a plate of traditional Christmas food at home or going to a restaurant for julbord (Christmas table), wrapping Christmas presents. All while enjoying the coziness of the advent candle(s) and the tastiness of glögg.

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Jag önskar er en god jul och gott nytt år!


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Holiday Greetings in Swedish

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What do these Holiday greetings mean? How do we translate them? When do we use them?

God, Gott, and Glad

These are all different ways to wish someone a holiday greeting, depending on which holiday.

It’s hard to not see an English word and its meaning when you read a foreign word that is spelled the same way. The word ‘God’ in Swedish is not referring to the religious entity. ‘God’ in Swedish means Good/Happy/Merry and is pronounced like ‘Good’.

Sometimes you will see ‘Gott’ instead. This is purely a grammatical difference and means the same exact thing thing. An example: ‘God Jul och Gott Nytt År’ means ‘Merry/Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year’. In Swedish the word ‘Year’ (år) is an “ett” word, making the whole sentence sprinkled with ‘t’s’. Otherwise people would say ‘God Ny år’, which means the same thing, but is not proper Swedish. Mystery solved!

So, we know what God Jul and Gott Nytt År mean…but what about these?

‘God Fortsättning’

If you know a little bit of Swedish you’ll catch that ‘att fortsätta’ means ‘to continue’, so the literal translation to this is ‘Good Continuation!’ But what does it mean!?
For weeks after Christmas you will hear people greeting each other with ‘God Fortsättning!’ as a way to wish each other a belated holiday. In NYC we would simply wish someone a Merry Christmas if we hadn’t seen them since. That doesn’t work here in Sweden though, hence this special greeting. If you wish someone a ‘God Jul’ on December 26th it would be considered strange, because…well, it’s no longer Christmas.

The ‘God fortsättning’ greeting lingers around until about the 7th of January (the 12th day of Christmas/Epiphany), but after January 1st it is a continuance of New Years that you are wishing people.

This time of the year isn’t the only time people use the phrase ‘God fortsättning.’ It could be used to wish someone a continuation of any holiday, but Christmas and New Years is when you hear it in mass amounts.

‘Gott Slut!’

So, this is another one of those ‘it doesn’t mean what it looks like’ words. The word ‘slut’ has nothing to do with sex, the same way the word ‘god’ has nothing to do with religion. ‘Slut’ in Swedish means ‘end’ and is pronounced like ‘sloot’. A very innocent word that everyone gets a good chuckle out of. So what does it mean? This is very specifically used to wish someone a good end to the year up until the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31st. This isn’t a very common phrase, but it exists nonetheless.

‘God Helg’

‘Helg’ means ‘weekend’ in Swedish, but this is not how you tell someone to have a nice weekend (That would be ‘Trevligt helg’). This is how you would wish someone a Happy Holiday – even though the word for ‘holiday’ is ‘högtider’ (high times).

I hope that everyone has had a good holiday season. I have a lot planned for Something Swedish in 2015 – so keep an eye out (And sorry for not being around more in 2014)

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Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

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There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.

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There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.

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Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.

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Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.

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Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:

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During the 1800’s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte


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Julbord: Christmas Table

I’ve eaten Christmas dinner in Sweden four times now, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how traditional it really is. A week before Christmas we had lunch at a restaurant, which happened to be serving a “Julbord.” Christmas in Sweden is all about the Julbord – think “Smörgåsbord” but with all the classic Christmas foods. The restaurant Julbord was serving the exact same Christmas foods as I’ve eaten in Sweden the last few years; it’s not just a family tradition.

Come noon on December 24th (Swede’s celebrate on the eve, or afton) our Julbord looks something like this every year:

Except this year we somehow forgot the boiled eggs – a Swedish tragedy. So, whats on this Christmas Table? Let’s see!

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Julskinka: Naturally, The Christmas Ham – only eaten after smothered in mustard.

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Dopp i gryta: “Dip in the pot” –  Using the rich flavored Christmas Ham broth, it is very traditional to dip dark bread and to eat the soaked bread along with Christmas dinner.

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Janssons Frestelse:  “Janssons Temptation”a delicious dish with very thinly cut potato ‘sticks’ is cooked in the oven with a secret ingredient that makes many non-swedes squirm…

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Anchovies. and anchovy juice.  Sounds gross, I know, but it’s awesome and full of flavor!

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Kålpudding:  Cabbage pudding. Thinly chopped cabbage, fried with syrup, baked with a thick layer of seasoned ground beef in the middle.

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Some Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse  preparation.

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Fläskkorv: large pork sausage

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Prinskorv: “Prince sausage”  mini hotdog-like sausages

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Köttbullar: The homemade meatballs, of course.

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Brunkål: Brown Cabbage, served as a side dish. Cabbage is boiled and fried and seasoned with vinegar, salt and syrup.

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Christmas Bread

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Cheese, bread, butter, and salad.

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My Christmas feast. Bottom center is the Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse.

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Alongside we drank Julmust, beer, and snaps.

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Julmust is a very popular cola beverage that is Christmas themed and has a distinctly different “holiday” flavor.

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After dinner and before the presents we eat Struva and glögg – a Swedish mulled spiced wine served warm with raisins and almonds.

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Later that evening we enjoyed Swedish cheesecake, icecream, jam, and cream with coffee, tea, and liquor.

If we had any young kids in the family our Christmas eve festivities would be very different, having to schedule around the must-watch 3:00pm Christmas cartoon, “Kalle Anka,” or as we know him – Donald Duck.  Every year half of Sweden faithfully sits around the television and watches “Kalle Anke och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Which would probably be followed by a mysterious Santa knocking on the door and giving out presents.

Christmas eve is also filled with tons of chocolate treats and candy, both as dessert and presents.

On Christmas Day, as if we aren’t full enough, we have our next food tradition – Lutfisk served with boiled potatoes.

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Lutefisk is a white fish that is air dried to later be re-hydrated with water and lye. The fish soaks in the lye water for weeks before it is ready to be cooked. The fish has a strange consistency the first time you eat it, but it is easily forgotten because it is served with a ton of white sauce, salt, and pepper. There are very small bones in the fish,  so be careful!

One last thing – it is very popular to make gingerbread houses in Sweden, as well as to eat ginger bread cookies throughout the month.


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Swedish Santa: Tomte

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In Sweden you’ll find all sorts of Santas – some more familiar than others. Some hardly recognizable as “Santa.” While you’ll see Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick from time to time, you’re much more likely to find depictions closer to what we have as elves, which a few years ago I was surprised to find out are Swedish Santas or “Tomten.”

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I’ve gotten used to the fact that my beloved childhood Santa Claus doesn’t live in Sweden, and that every country has it’s own version. I’m pretty happy that Sweden has such cute little fellas, which such rich history! – So, what is tomten…and why are they so small!?

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Tomten (sometimes called Nisse) hasn’t always been the Swedish Santa (replacing the Yule Goat); actually originating as a mythical creature in Scandinavian lore that played a role more similar to a “house gnome.” The tomten would secretly live in, or under, a house and protect the children and animals from evil or misfortune. Sometimes a tomten would even help with chores or farm work. Despite being tiny, they were also known to have a temper, playing tricks or killing livestock if offended by rudeness.

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It wasn’t until the 1840’s that  tomten became Jultomten, or “Christmas tomten,” and  started to play the role of Santa after being depicted  as wearing a red cap and having a white beard – and of course tomten started delivering Christmas gifts.  Jultomten didn’t replace tomten, but nowadays when people talk about “tomten” they are normally referring to the Swedish Santa. The traditional “house gnome” tomten is called a hustomte or tomtar.

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When a tomten delivers 2012-12-03 15.27.32Christmas gifts, he doesn’t use the chimney, but comes straight through the front door. This coincides with the Swedish tradition of many households having their very own Santa simply walk in and hand out presents. If a family has young kids, it is common for someone to dress up and play the role with these costumes found in stores (My husband was Santa for his nephew for many years).

Jultomtens don’t live  in the North Pole,  like Santa, or in peoples houses, like traditional tomtens, but is believed to instead live in nearby forests. Much like leaving Santa cookies and milk, tomten likes porridge, or rather requires it. If not gifted with porridge, tomten would stop helping and leave the house or, even worse, cause mischief. And don’t forget to include the almond and butter.

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Tomten is sometimes shown carrying a pig, which is also a popular Christmas decoration in Sweden.

This year was the first time I saw Santa out and  about. Unlike in New York where you will find a Santa in every big store with a long queue or children waiting to sit on his lap, the “Mall Santa” is not a popular thing in Sweden.

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A few weeks ago we spotted Santa sitting under the towns (outdoor) Christmas tree with a dozen children huddled around. There was no long line, no one taking/selling photos, no one collecting money for a turn to talk to Santa.

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We talk about “writing our Christmas lists,” but whenever we go to see Santa we normally just say what we want. In Sweden those lists are key. Every single kid had a list in his or her hand, either written neatly before or scribbled right then and there on scraps, backs of envelopes, or wrinkled receipts.

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When asked if he would take a photo by the decorated tree nearby, he posed for us – with his baskets of wish list letters.

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Hope everyone had a Great Christmas!! – More about Swedish Christmas (Traditions, Food, and decorations) coming up soon!


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Trip to the Tivoli Christmas Market

Tivoli is always a beautiful place, especially at night, but with all the extra Christmas decorations and lights, with dozens of fun stores filled with presents and ornaments, it was extra special!  ~ Enjoy!

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Hope all those photos put you in the Christmas spirit! This week I sent out all of my U.S bound Christmas cards and exchanged my first presents! It really is around the corner!


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The First Advent & A Christmas Market

Yesterday was the start of the longest holiday season: Advent. It was the fourth Sunday from Christmas and it’s a big deal in Sweden.

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Every Swedish family (I would assume) has Advent candles that they light gradually every week, creating a staircase effect. Yesterday we lit the first candle. Most traditional advent candles have an area where moss and decorations can be arranged. Everyday in town square you can find stands selling this moss, along with wreaths, decorations, pine branches, and advent candles:

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Another type of Advent candle that is lit a little bit each day:

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To celebrate the first advent, there was a Christmas market from 2pm-7pm filled with homemade items and foods to buy as Christmas presents.

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Many of the people selling things were wearing Santa caps. Even the horses and hot dog vendors:

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During the Christmas market there were things happening all throughout town. There was caroling and music, horsey rides400042_10151463854640312_657501302_n and face painting for the kids, dancing around the Christmas tree, free gingerbread cookies and glögg, an Advent concert at the church, and the town’s Lucia was crowned. Lucia is a very big holiday here, which I’ll write about in about a week. It was too cold to stick around and see everything that was going on, unfortunately.

Despite the below freezing temperatures (-7°c/20°f) and the night time darkness at 4:30pm (it felt like 9pm), it was the most crowded I’ve seen Halmstad. These two things are also the cause of only a few low quality photos, my fingers were a bit too frostbiten. (See said finger in photo below)

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Traditionally, the first advent was also the day that stores revealed their Christmas window displays and decorations – meaning all the stores in town are open ON A SUNDAY! Nowadays, most of the Christmas decor has already been displayed, but the stores open their doors anyway. It was unbelievable how many people were out shopping yesterday, to the point that it was difficult getting in and out of places, without any special sales – just because it is tradition. (And exotic to shop on a Sunday!)

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This count down to Christmas became popular in the 1930’s in Sweden, without so much emphasis on the religious origin; the “coming” of Christ. Instead it gives the country a reason to celebrate and be festive. Special Advent decorations are in all the windows, advent calendars are opened, candles are lit, and even an annual advent 24-episode kids show is used as a count down to Christmas. By the first Advent, Southern Sweden only has 6-7 hours of daylight, so the extra decorations, lights, candles and festivities are a huge plus for moral. For Northern Sweden, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, this time is also a count down to the Winter Solstice on December 21st, when the daytime sunlight will return. “It will soon turn,” is supposed to be a common greeting in Northern Sweden, waiting for the Winter  solstice to come and bring back daylight.

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Vocabulary

First/1st: Först/ 1:e

Christmas: Jul

Christmas Market: Julmarknad

Christmas Present: Julklapp

Stores: Butiker/Affärer

To shop: Att handla

To buy: Att köpa

Advent Candles: Adventsljusstake

Decoration: Dekoration

Freezing: Frysning