It was mid-November… but that didn’t stop shop owners from building their Christmas displays in the streets of Stockholm. After all, this is the land of gnomes, Christmas sweaters, snow, and Reindeer. The town square Christmas tree still needed to be decorated but the mulled wine and cheer was already making itself known in Gamla stan.

This was the first city in the world where I experienced the Christmas feel this year.

For the Swedish, the event that kicks the Christmas season off is St. Lucia’s Day, which happens on December 13th. It’s said that the celebration evolved from stories brought to the country by Christian Monks of Saint Lucy, a little girl who was killed for her Christian beliefs. She is said to have carried food to persecuted Christians throughout Rome, and while doing so wore candles around her head to keep her hands free.

On St. Lucia’s Day, in homes around Sweden, the youngest girl in the house puts on a white dress and a red sash and carries food and drinks to her parents. She wears a crown on her head made of evergreens and adorned with candles. Her brothers and sisters help with the task.

When reading up on Swedish Christmas traditions, this one in particular caught my eye (and attention): After Christmas Eve dinner, a friend or family member dresses up as tomte or Christmas gnome. The tomte, unlike Santa Claus is supposed to live under the floorboards of the house or barn and ride a straw goat. The make-believe tomte, wearing a white beard and dressed in red robes, distributes gifts from his sack. Many are given with funny rhyme that hints at the contents.

I’m assuming that the little red hatted creatures in the gallery are the tomte!