Christmas is taken very seriously in Sweden and luckily, Jeanne and I were able to experience it in Gothenburg when the weather cleared the next day. Absolutely everything was decked for the holidays, even our hotel (the Hotel Royal – highly recommended for their excellent breakfast, warm rooms and friendly staff) had numerous jultomten (Christmas tomten) scattered about and gingerbread scenes (including the front desk!) next to the breakfast buffet. Gingerbread features heavily everywhere and the most common Swedish form is pepparkakor, the thin ginger snaps you can get easily in Ikea. Every shop, hotel, market counter seems to have an open tin of them for their customers (um… I ate a lot of them). Every cafe and bakery seems to sell their own homemade pepparkakor and gingerbread.
At Stora Saluhallen, the city’s centrally located covered market hall, patisseries, bakers, butchers, fishmongers, and grocers were all arranged neatly in stalls while that day, farmers set up smaller stands outside. There were lots of Christmas goods inside and Christmas trees and plants available to buy from the stands outside.
We found very good chocolates at Flickorna Kanold, including special Christmas season flavours. I took a boxful of them back to Blai and we loved the saffron one and the cinnamon and orange one but haven’t yet tackled the cuteness that is the Jul Marsipan chocolate.
Every sweet shop and patisserie was also selling marzipan pigs, which I think are associated with luck. These ones were my favourite as they looked somewhat insane.
We were actually in Gothenburg just before St Lucia’s feast day (13 Dec) and a saffron bun called a lussekatt is traditionally eaten on this day. These were gorgeous and tasted even better – it’s made with a rich brioche-like dough flavoured with lots of saffron.
On St Lucia’s Day, one girl is chosen to be Lucia for the city of Gothenburg (and other cities in Sweden and even in homes and other smaller community events). In the spirit of all things modern, you could vote for the one you wanted – the photo below was taken the next day in Nordstan, a shopping mall in Gothenburg. The Lucias wear a candle wreath in her hair and from what I understand, there’s a procession involving other girls and boys and singing.
At the nearby Feskekôrka (fish church – nothing religious about it apart from the market’s resemblance to a church), we gawped at the marvellously fresh fish and seafood on offer and sampled all variety of pickled herring. I wonder if some of that seafood will show up on Christmas tables. It was here too we discovered the combination of pickled herring and gingerbread – it sounds a bit odd but they really are delicious together (I’ve been recreating it at home with soft gingerbread and mustard herrings I brought back from Sweden).
A stand had been set up in the middle of the hall with glögg and Christmas treats for shoppers and vendors alike.
We strolled over to Haga, a particularly pretty district of Gothenburg and found a Christmas Market taking place on the main street (Haga Nygata). There were lots of craft stands and food vendors set out along the cobbled streets and it is certainly good for Christmas shopping. We were surprised to see that everything sold was beautiful and of good quality, not like the tat commonly found at Christmas markets in London (wooden ties, anyone?).
There was quite a bit of music too that Saturday with carollers setting up along the street and a grand ol’ marching band complete with festive cheerleaders and flag girls continually marched and played up and down between the stands.
The biggest and possibly most famous of the Christmas Markets in Sweden can be found in Gothenburg and it’s at Liseberg, the big amusement park in the city. Using our Gothenburg City Cards (provided by the Gothenburg Tourist Board), we hopped on an old-fashioned wooden tram in the centre of town that took us directly to the park and then gained entry to Liseberg. This was exciting – both Jeanne and I are big fans of Christmas markets and here we were at Sweden’s largest. It was hard to get in the festive spirit with everyone else there equally excited.
Most of the rides were closed but a few were still open for those who enjoy being flung about in the cold.
The whole park looked wonderfully festive with its beautiful lights and Christmas goods on sale. While it took a lot of willpower to not buy a little candle powered angel chime, we happily handed over our money after sampling some gorgeous hot smoked salmon.
There were even reindeer and a whole section of the park dedicated to Lapp culture (they had the most delectable looking flatbreads and reindeer kebabs). They say that almost 5 million lights are strung up in Liseberg at Christmas time; I believe them. I’d recommend going when it’s dark as it’s difficult to see them during the day and also make sure you allocate at least a few hours to see everything!
I was particularly tickled by the numerous Wheels of Fortune in Liseberg. I’m not sure if giant bars of chocolate and humongous bags of crisps are normally the prizes at other times of the year but they were out in full force at Christmas and people were going crazy over them. You buy a number or range of numbers, wait for the wheel to spin and if your number comes up, you win a prize – I only saw regular sized bars of chocolate being handed out. I suspect that you must collect quite a few of these before you can trade them in for a giant bar. There were a surprising number of people with multiple giant bars – I don’t even want to think about how much they must have spent on the wheels. It became my mission to take photos of all the wheels we encountered and this is just a selection of them. And no, I didn’t have a go at them.
Sadly, we didn’t eat much while inside as we had a big dinner that night and we had to leave the park early when we were hailed on but the Swedish are tough! We passed lots of them watching a outdoor show on ice, paying no attention whatsoever to the rain and hail.
That night, we sat down to one of the most epic of Swedish Christmas feasts – a julbord. That’s in the next and last post on our trip to Gothenburg.