With winter’s dark chill comes the opportunity to cozy up. Maintaining a cheery disposition can get tougher with the stark harshness of winter just outside your door, but instead of letting the cold season get you down, look for ways to make the most of it. The Swedes, in particular, have learned to view winter as an opportunity for enjoyment and nailed it down to an art, so much so that they have a word for it.
“Mys,” the Swedish word for coziness, is an active pursuit for the Swedish during the winter season—after all, the country of Sweden, located near and partially within the Arctic Circle, is subject to some of the coldest, darkest, and longest winters in the world. To dread this time of year would be to endure quite an unhappy life, since so much of the year is spent with a chill in the air; instead, Swedes have learned to celebrate and embrace winter through myriad ways to stay upbeat and joyful. It’s no wonder this Scandinavian winter wonderland has “making spirits bright” on lock.
Embrace these heartwarming Swedish traditions to enjoy one of your warmest holiday seasons yet—and keep the winter blues at bay.
Food and Drink: Julbord and Glögg
Try a traditional Swedish “julbord”—or Christmas smörgåsbord—to get a taste of the country’s holiday-season cuisine. A julbord includes traditional Swedish Christmas food and alcoholic beverages served, often in the form of a buffet, as a feast with loved ones, whether family or friends.
Foods you might find in a julbord spread include “köttbullar” (meatballs), “prinskorv” (smoked sausages), “Janssons frestelse” (literally “Jansson’s temptation,” which is a casserole with potatoes, sliced onions, sprats, and cream), “toast skagen” or “skagenröra” (prawn toast), “julskinka” (Christmas ham), at least one type of rice pudding, and more. A wide variety of Swedish holiday dishes is key.
Serve it all up with a steaming mug of “glogg”—Sweden’s take on a mulled, spiced wine, typically served with raisins and blanched almond slices—for the full experience. The alcoholic drink, always served hot, is another classic taste of Sweden’s holiday season. In fact, during the month of December, many Swedes gather solely to drink glögg, hosting “glögg parties” during which they imbibe and snack on “pepparkakor” (ginger snaps) to accompany the seasonal sip.
Whether you fill your julbord with traditional Swedish foods or dishes suited to your own tastes, the essential factor is a spread of hot and cold foods around which you gather with loved ones, indulging in a hearty and filling meal together while enjoying the camaraderie of one another’s company.
In addition, set out plenty of Christmas decorations and soft lights, and you’ll be on your way to a hearty dose of mys. Ample light, making for a festive atmosphere inside the home, is an important component of Swedish mys during the dark months of winter.
Fika: A Daily Break
Practiced year-round, the Swedish tradition of “fika” demands a break in the day, during which Swedes recalibrate, refocus, and recenter by stopping to enjoy a coffee break with a small snack (typically a pastry). It’s a dose of mys in the everyday: a tasty treat paired with a hot beverage and an invitation to stop and savor the moment before carrying on with the rest of your day.
Fika can be taken alone or with others. Enjoying a fika outdoors during the winter months means indulging in a steaming mug of something warm—beverages like rosehip and blueberry soup or even glögg. “Julmust” (Christmas soda), spiced “aquavit”, and “julöl” (Christmas beer) are other popular holiday-season drinks, sometimes consumed during a wintertime fika.
Fredagsmys: Cozy Fridays
After a week of working hard and eating healthy, does anything sound better than cozying up at home with comfort food and no agenda? Not according to the Swedes, who have been celebrating “Fredagsmys”—or “cozy Fridays”—since a marketing campaign introduced the idea in the 1990s.
Similar to Americans’ exultations of TGIF but observed with a night in instead of a night out, Fredagsmys calls for relaxing at home on Friday evenings, curled up on the couch in front of the TV with loved ones (and snacks). This modern tradition is the perfect time to watch a good movie and indulge in junk food, closing out the stress of a work week through a low-pressure way to unwind.
On the Fredagsmys menu? Low-hassle comfort foods like Swedish-style tacos and pizza.
Lördagsgodis: Saturday Sweets
What do you do upon waking on a Saturday morning after a Fredagsmys well spent? “Lördagsgodis,” of course—which translates roughly to Saturday candy, or Saturday sweets.
During this weekend tradition, both children and adults feast on candy, typically in a “pick and mix” fashion where each family member adds their personal favorite into the mixed grab bag of sweets. In other words, Saturdays are for satisfying your sweet tooth guilt-free—a little dose of weekly joy.
Sweden doesn’t get much daylight during its long, harsh winters, so Advent Sundays come as a welcome reprieve from the dreariness once December rolls around—an uplifting sign that the joy of Christmas is just around the corner. On these Sundays especially, Swedes enjoy decorating for the holidays, adorning their homes with advent stars and plenty of electric candlesticks (if not real candles) to get in the holiday spirit. Another custom is to light a candle every Sunday during Advent.
Decorating the home with lots of light, candles, and Christmas decor is an important element of Swedish mys and helps to keep both physical and metaphorical darkness at bay during a season when ambient light is scant.
Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman