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January 13 | St. Knut’s Day: Christmas tree plundering in Sweden and Finland

4 min read

It’s time to celebrate the Swedish holiday of St Knut’s Day!
We know what your true love gave you on the 1st through 12th day of Christmas but what did you get on the 20th day of Christmas?
Probably just a broken gingerbread house, a tree hurled out your window or door, and candies and cookies that decorated it!

Saint Knut’s Day, in Swedish tjugondag jul, literally ‘twentieth-day Christmas’, and nuutinpäivä in Finnish, is a traditional festival celebrated in Sweden and Finland on this day, 13 January.
On this day, Christmas trees are taken down and the candies and cookies that decorated the tree are eaten.
In Sweden, the feast held during this event is called a Knut’s party, julgransplundring, literally “Christmas tree plundering”.

It sounds good but…who is Knut?
Knut Levard was a Danish duke who was assassinated by his cousin and rival Magnus Nilsson on 7 January 1131 so he could usurp the Danish throne.
In the aftermath of his death there was a civil war, which led to Knut being later declared a saint, and 7 January officially became Knut’s Day.
As his name day roughly coincided with Epiphany, the “thirteenth day of Christmas”, in 1680, it was moved to 13 January and became known as tjugondag Knut or tjugondedag jul, not by chance the ‘twentieth day of Knut/Christmas’.

In Finland, on nuutinpäivä, a tradition has been observed which is somewhat analogous to the modern Santa Claus, where young men dressed as “nuuttipukki”, goats, would visit houses.
Usually the dress was an inverted fur jacket, a leather or birch bark mask, and horns.
However, unlike Santa Claus, Nuuttipukki was a scary character. The men dressed as nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and typically demanded food from the household and especially leftover alcoholic beverages.
Unless a Nuuttipukki received a salary from the host, he committed evil deeds.
A dialectical proverb from Noormarkku says: Hyvä Tuomas joulun tua, paha Knuuti poijes viä or ‘Good St. Thomas brings Christmas, evil Knut takes it away.’
In Finland the Nuuttipukki tradition is still kept alive in areas of Satakunta, Southwest Finland, Ostrobothnia and very much so on the Åland Islands. However, nowadays the character is usually played by children and now involves a happy encounter.

In Sweden St. Knut’s Day marks the end of the Christmas and holiday season, which includes Advent Sunday, Saint Lucy’s Day, Christmas, New Year and Epiphany. It is celebrated by taking out the Christmas tree and dancing around it and, not by chance, It is also known as “Dancing out Christmas” (Dansa ut julen) or “Throw out the Tree” (Kasta ut granen).
Traditionally since the 17th century, Christmas ends on the 20th day after Christmas in Sweden.
In the old Swedish agrarian society, children would run from farm to farm to “call out Christmas” (ropa ut julen), that is call out that Christmas had ended and beg for food and drink, and the present day tradition has changed very little since the 1870s.

A lot of the St Knut’s Day traditions were at their most popular in the years after the Second World War but they haven’t totally died out by any means and, during the 20th century, the party became mainly associated with children and candy.
Party activities involve singing and dancing around the Christmas tree, “looting” the tree of ornamental candy and apples, smashing the gingerbread house into pieces and eating it, opening Christmas crackers that have been used as decorations in the tree, lotteries, creating a fiskdamm (“fishing pond”) where children will “fish” for toys and candy or even a treasure hunt.
And, after dancing around the tree there is often the tradition of throwing out it.
“Throwing out” the tree on St Knut’s Day does not just mean taking it out to the garbage like is done in the United States.
During the 20th century, Christmas trees were literally thrown out of the window or from the balcony, onto the street once they had been “plundered” and stripped of all ornaments.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, areas for dumping the trees are designated by local authorities but in 2015, spontaneous and illegal dumping grounds were still a problem.
The discarded trees now can be recycled for heating or used in bonfires at Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) later in spring.
Failure to dispose of the tree in a manner designated by the authorities can result in a fine or a sentence of up to one year in prison!
Since the late 1980s, artificial Christmas trees have replaced a portion of the natural trees and thus eliminated the need to dispose of the tree.
Of course, these are simply disassembled and put into storage after the Knut’s party!

In any case, someone once said…”It is better to toss your tree than to toss your cookies!”.
Happy St Knut’s Day!

Images from web – Google Research