A Scandinavian Christmas – Part 1

Last year our family spent Christmas in Scandinavia. The post will be divided into four sections, starting in Stockholm, then south to Gränna & Jönköping, by Lake Vättern, then to Abisko for the Northern Lights, followed by Norway for a special Christmas display before heading back to Stockholm. 

Post 1 of 4:  Starting in the winter wonderland of Stockholm. 

Stockholm:  Landing in a Winter Wonderland
Stockholm: Landing in a Winter Wonderland

Christmas is my favorite holiday so I tend to go a little overboard on everything associated with the season, but last year things were different.  One of my sons was studying in Sweden and his schedule didn’t permit him enough time for a visit home.  He seemed just as down about it as we were, so my husband and I decided to splurge on a family trip to see him. That is how we all ended up flying into Stockholm for Christmas last year.

It was late September when we made the decision, so we didn’t have much time for planning.  We had to work around blackout dates to use frequent flier points, so the choice was to either stay three weeks, or spend big bucks for a shorter stay.  After running the numbers, it was actually cheaper to stay longer and pay for hotels than to purchase airline tickets for a shorter stay.  Yes!

Once we got the airline tickets booked, my husband asked each of us to make a list of the top five things we wanted to do while there.  Surprisingly– or not– we ended up with similar lists. The top three were:

  • Northern Norway to see the fjords, watch the whales & view the northern lights.
  • Abisko, Sweden to see the Northern Lights.  
  • Take the Arctic Circle Express Train on an overnight ride up to the Arctic Circle. 

Having seen the Northern Lights on a family trip to Alaska earlier in the year, we all had been mesmerized, hence the family’s collective desire to see them again. If you’ve ever experienced auroral activity, you understand why. 

Lucky for us, Scandinavia is famous for northern lights, but unfortunately, many places are also notorious for cloudy weather this time of year.  So we covered our bases. I’ll get to that in another post,  but I’d like to start from the beginning, flying into Stockholm.  From that moment, the whole trip became a magical experience. Yes, “magical experience” is such a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason…often because they are truths.  Of course, there are always the normal family moments of bickering, but that’s part of the whole travel experience, yes?   

Unless there is a compelling reason, I (& everyone else in the family) like to go to places we haven’t been when choosing a family vacation.  I had travelled to Sweden that summer for a month.  After completing a rigorous MBA program I needed a break, so I travelled for two weeks with my son, then helped him get settled in before travelling on my own for the remainder of my time.  We had not thought much about him having to stay in Sweden over Christmas at the time, but when we began to make holiday plans, we all really missed him, and I think he actually missed all of us — so, compelling reason for returning. 

Stockholm at night; Photographer's delight
Stockholm at night; Photographer’s delight
 During the summer, I really loved the sunsets.  Mark Twain said, “Happiness is a Swedish sunset; it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it.” Perhaps he was speaking metaphorically, but I found it hard to look away from any sunset on my first visit; however, flying into Stockholm during the winter when they occur around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and are filled with shades of pink and coral against the crisp twilight blue winter sky…well, it felt like we were flying right into a Christmas card.  

We caught the Arlanda Express from the airport to Stockholm Central. That’s where we got off for the two block walk in freezing weather to our hotel by the water.  It didn’t matter that my teeth were chattering and my fingers frozen, I had visions of snow, exotic feasts, northern lights (maybe), and a child I hadn’t seen in a few months.  I caught myself absentmindedly humming “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”  What jet lag?

Stockholm dazzles through the long winter nights
Stockholm dazzles through the long winter nights
 Hotel reservations had not been too easy to get when we were planning, but we discovered the Sheraton Stockholm on Tegelbacken.    Perfectly located by the water and only a couple blocks from Stockholm Central, we were thrilled when we checked into our fabulous room with a view.  Not only was the room quiet and comfortable, but the food in the restaurant was outstanding– especially the traditional Swedish fare. Breakfast buffet was included with our package.

I was photographing this lovely tree when guards suddenly came out to (very nicely) reprimand me.  Wonder who lives there?  Their lips were sealed
I was photographing this lovely tree when guards suddenly came out to (very nicely) reprimand me. Wonder who lives there? Their lips were sealed
We texted our son to let him know we made it. He still had a couple of exams to complete, so we spent our first two nights in Stockholm getting over jet lag (it finally hit hard), acclimating to the short days, and learning our way around the city. Stockholm’s lights, water, and long nights make it a photographer’s dream, but it’s even more so with the added dash of Christmas sparkle.  Without a doubt, it’s impossible to capture the beauty of Stockholm on camera. But I sure tried!
Next post:  We leave Stockholm & head south to see our son and meet friends made over the summer