With Trettondagen - Epiphany (January 6) over and Tjugondedag Knut 'Twentieth Day Knut' coming up on January 13, Christmas is over even in Sweden. Costumes, ghosts, and wild parties. No, it’s not a description of Halloween but rather Epiphany celebrations in the old days. Today, Trettondagen or Epiphany in English, is a fairly tame holiday in Sweden, but it wasn’t always like that – in the old days, January 6th was celebrated with great hullabaloo. Still a holiday in Sweden most people also take the previous day, the Twelfth Night (Trettondagsafton) off from work.

“That was the day when the Three Wise men visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” says Lena Kättström Höök, superintendent at Nordiska museet. According to Swedish folklore, the dead came visiting from their graves for Christmas and had to return on the 6th of January. Most of these traditions went to their graves during the 19th century, too. Today the only one remaining is, perhaps, the so-called julgransplundring (a children’s party at which the Christmas tree was stripped of its decorations, which in the old days consisted of apples, candy and other edibles).
“But on the island of Möja, it’s just like old times. They sing medieval songs and walk around with a great, shining star,” Kättström Höök explains. Stjärnsångare, Singers to the star, on Möja dress up similar to the star boys of Lucia or the lussegubbar of west Sweden of olden times Lesser known about Lucia celebrations.

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According to the Bible Epiphany actually marks two events in Jesus Christ’s life. The first event was when the three wise men, or kings, visited infant Jesus. The second event was when St John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

In many countries, Twelfth Night leading into Epiphany marks the absolute end of Christmas celebrations. But the Swedes and Finns, and some parts of Norway, feel it's a pity to finish that early, and stretch Christmas another week. That gives the final date of January 13th, which in Sweden is the name day of Knut, hence the expression tjugondedag Knut ("twentieth day Knut").

According to renowned folklore professor Jan-Öjvind Swahn it's not clear why Swedes stretch the Christmas celebration so far into January. However, there's a lot to suggest that the notorious Midwinter Sacrifice (Midvinterblot) of the Viking era, with its human sacrifices and great feastings, took place on January 13. It is believed that the early Christian Church in the Nordic countries sought to exterminate the abomination by bringing the Midwinter celebration into the fold of Christmas.

It is on tjugondedag Knut that Swedish families throw a Julgransplundring, "plunder the Christmas tree," as friends and family gather to strip the tree of decorations, play games, eat cake, then - often literally - throw out the Christmas tree.

Sources: Nordiska Museet, Jan-Öjvind Swahn

Möja is an island in the Stockholm archipelago, only accessible by boat Möja tourist information (in Swedish)