This article will serve as a guide to five popular Swedish traditions and, more specifically, the traditions surrounding gift giving in Sweden. By the end of it, you will have no problem picking out a Swedish gift for any occasion.
If you have ever been in Sweden around Christmas time, there is one specific phenomenon which you cannot have missed. I am speaking, of course, of the Aladdinask. That red and white box of more or less delicious chocolates which instantly becomes one of the hottest debated topics whenever there is talk of replacing one of the pralines (RIP trillingnöten). It is everywhere during the holiday season; in every home, in every store, wherever you turn, it is there. Given its popularity, the Aladdinask is also a safe bet when it comes to picking out a Christmas present for anyone over the age of thirty. Alternatively, if the person is not a big fan of chocolate but a bigger fan of money, you could go for a couple of scratchcards and hope the receiver wins just enough not to be disappointed, but not so much that you regret not keeping the scratchcard for yourself. For the kids, as Swedes are generally the outdoorsy type, until climate change ruins winter completely skis and snowboards will remain at the top of Swedish children’s wish lists.
Swedish people view the usual milestone birthdays, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th and so on, as a little extra special. For these occasions, however, you are on your own when it comes to gift ideas as there are unfortunately no particular traditions surrounding these birthdays. Someone’s 15th birthday on the other hand, depending on how much you are willing to spend, requires a bit less thinking. At 15 you are allowed to drive a moped in Sweden, and if you live in a small town without subways and trams it is quite convenient to have one. Late summer evenings you can hear the local “moppegäng” zooming around on their trimmed mopeds, waking up the entire neighbourhood. 18 is another one of those birthdays that require less creativity, as this is the age when you are allowed to drive in Sweden. Considering a driver’s license costs about 1500 SEK, or 1650 USD, it is no wonder that many soon-to-be 18 year olds ask for money for their license or even driving lessons. In case you are feeling extra generous, keep in mind that a right of passage of sorts for a Swedish young adult is to drive around in their very own, used, old Volvo.
Classic Swedish wedding gifts include the usual kitchen appliances, pots and pans, expensive knives and fancy wine glasses. If you want to give the happy couple something that is more uniquely a Swedish traditional gift however, you cannot go wrong with some nice porcelain dinnerware. Though do remember to ask the bride and groom which brand they are collecting, as you would not want to buy the wrong one. If you instead feel like giving them interior design pieces, just make sure that they are simple with clean lines and preferably in the colors black or white. Swedes love simplicity when it comes to home decoration. If you are still unsure of what to get, any type of glass object from Kosta Boda, iitala, or other Scandinavian brands are safe bets.
Studenten is the equivalent of the American high school graduation. It is often one of the most important celebratory occasions in a young Swede’s life. There are a number of interesting traditions associated with studenten, like hanging stuffed animals around your neck, or riding on the back of a truck with all of your classmates and pouring beer everywhere while wearing overpriced hats that you inevitably ruin while riding on the back of said truck. After this you go home, drenched in beer, take a shower and meet with your family and friends for what is known as a studentmottagning. At the mottagning, it is customary for the guests to bring gifts for the graduate. Jewelry is definitely popular, but it is also common to give dinnerware and kitchen appliances or other things the young adult can use in the future when they get their own apartment. Think of it as a subtle way of saying “Well done, I’m proud of you, now get out of the house”.
Although Sweden is known to be one of the least religious countries on the planet, this does not mean that Swedes do not hold on to Christian traditions. They have just become less about religion and are thought of more as a reason to get people together to celebrate. About half of all Swedish babies get baptized, so it is still an important and widespread tradition. A baby getting baptized of course entails gifts. Some of the more traditional gifts given at baptisms are silver frames, silver spoons, little silver boxes for the child’s first lost tooth, money boxes in various forms or cute silver picture frames. If you are going for something traditional, you generally want to give them something they can keep in the future as a memory.
So, whether you are looking for a birthday gift for you Swedish co-worker or going to celebrate Christmas in Sweden, now you hopefully have a better idea of what gift to get. Some general advice is to remember that Swedes are fond of simplicity and utility, so whatever gift you decide on, it should be either stylishly minimalistic if it is an interior design object, or practical and fill a need. Follow these guidelines and you cannot go wrong.