Home for the Holidays: International Traditions

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One of the best parts about going to Maryville University is learning about other students’ traditions and beliefs. It is especially interesting learning about how international students celebrate the holidays in their native country. Pawprint had the opportunity to talk with sophomore Christian Kjaersgaard, freshman Sander Heieren and freshman Jorgen Petterson about traditions back home during the holiday season. Christian is from Eringsboda, Sweden, while Sander and Jorgen are from Fredrikstad, Norway. Sweden and Norway are neighboring countries and have very similar traditions and beliefs.

Sander Heieren (left) and Jorgen Petterson (right) are both from Fredrikstad, Norway. Photo courtesy of Jorgen Petterson.
Christian Kjaersgaard is from Eringsboda, Sweden. Photo Courtesy of Christian Kjaersgaard.

Saint Lucia’s Day

December 13, St. Lucia’s Day, is one of the largest days of celebration in Sweden and Norway. This celebration comes from stories told by monks who first brought Christianity to the nordic countries. St. Lucia was a young, Christian girl who would secretly bring food and drink to persecuted Christians hiding in catacombs. St. Lucia would wear candles on her head as she ventured through the catacombs handing out food. The day this is celebrated, a woman is dressed up in an all white dress with a red sash around her waist. “She has a crown with candles in it and goes around early in the morning with a plate of sweets and a large train of people gather behind her singing songs and celebrating,” Christian said. She visits hospitals, retirement homes, senior living centers and schools to hand out sweets and spread holiday cheer.

Lengthy Christmas

In Sweden and Norway, Christmas is taken very seriously and is the biggest time of the year. People have extended holidays so they can make the most out of their celebrations. The Christmas celebration lasts over four days, “We have what’s called Little Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the day after Christmas (second day of Christmas),” Christian said. Little Christmas, December 23,  is when all of the family gathers and prepares for Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, December 24, is the main celebratory day. This is when they look inside their stockings, open presents and have a huge feast. The next days that follow, Christmas and second Christmas, are a continued celebration with their extended family. Everyone gathers, participates in activities and shares a huge meal.


Ever wondered what it would be like to trick-or-treat in December? Norway has a week-long period after Christmas where children go door-to-door seeking candy and gifts. “From the second day of Christmas to New Year’s Eve, children can go from house to house and get free candy,” Sander said. “You knock on doors and sing Christmas songs and they give you gifts,” Jorgen said. This is called Julebukking, also known as Christmas-fooling. This tradition involves a group of people dressing up, wearing masks, going door-to-door trying to fool their neighbors. The participators cover their faces and disguise their voices in order to trick their friends and neighbors. Once their identity is revealed, the people are offered holiday snack and treats before moving onto the next house.

Traditional Meals

The most important part of any holiday celebration is the food. In Norway, the most popular holiday dish is called norsk ribbe. Norsk ribbe, which means roast rib, has a crispy outside and a tender, juicy inside. It is consumed nearly every day starting in late November. Another popular dish in Norway is called pinnekjott. Pinnekjott, which roughly translates to stick meat, is ribs from either pig or sheep depending on what part of Norway you are from. This is often served with potatoes, turnips, bread and beer. In Sweden, a typical holiday meal includes ham, meatballs, sausages, pickled herring and fish.

Other interesting traditions and facts:

  • At 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, everyone watches “Donald Duck,” which is a compilation of Disney short films. It is the most -viewed TV show every year.
  • New Year’s Eve is the day the most pizzas are ordered.
  • At 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the King gives a speech summing up the year.
  • In Norway, starting in December, children get to open a gift every day until Christmas.
  • In Sweden, the most popular holiday films are Home Alone and Edward Scissorhands.
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