Sweden’s winter Sámi festival

Despite the chilly temperatures, more than 30,000 people flock to Swedish Lapland every February to revel in the history of one of the world’s oldest nomadic cultures.

Jokkmokk Market (Jokkmokksmarknad), the largest indigenous Sámi festival in the world, celebrates the lives and traditions of the Sámi people, who are native to the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Archaeological artefacts from the area, collectively known as the Sápmi region, date back 10,000 years, and for centuries the Sámi  lifestyle has centred on reindeer husbandry, fishing and hunting. The village of Jokkmokk has been a key trading post for many Sámi groups who herd reindeer between Sweden in the winter and Norway in the summer.

Festival activities

The festival officially kicks off on the first Thursday of each February, but visitors should plan on arriving a few days earlier for the “Historic Market”, a look back to the Middle Ages with handmade balms, medicinal salves, dried mushrooms, jams, fur clothing and carvings for sale. Feast on traditional reindeer and moose meat, fish, root vegetables, herbs, berries and other local foods, prepared over open flames.

There is a host of activities to enjoy while the festival is in full swing, such as folk dancing, traditional jojking (similar to yodelling), dog sledding or reindeer racing. Try searching for the Northern Lights, take an excursion to the Ice Hotel or spend the night in a handmade snow igloo.

Do not miss the reindeer caravan at noon each day. The procession is led by local Sámi elder, Per Kuhmunen, whose working reindeer pull his grandchildren along on wooden sleds through the market’s narrow alleys.

Swing by the Ájtte Museum, the official Sámi museum, with permanent exhibitions such as “The Passage of Time”, which chronicles 9,000 years and 270 generations of indigenous life, as well as “Costume and Silver”, which displays traditional clothing and handicrafts.

Slow food

Reindeer is integral to the Sámi culture, as most parts of the animal can be used – meat and fat for cooking, fur and skin for clothing, and horns for tools and crafts.

Head to Restaurang Samernas to try seasonal, local dishes made by Sámi elder Greta Huuva, like Renspån - torkat renkött och varmrökt rentunga (dried reindeer meat and smoked reindeer tongue), Kams (chunks of curdled reindeer blood) and Torrköttsoppa (dried reindeer-meat soup). Or locate Wild Hasse’s booth at the market – easy to spot as he will be bellowing out to passersby – and sample some of his dried meats and jerky made from local game like reindeer, moose and bear.

Hit the runway

Visiting Sámi will often be wearing 'Gákti' designs from Sweden, Finland and Norway -- traditional clothing with embroidered belts, boots and gloves made from reindeer skin and fur.  Sámi artist and designer Elise Tullnär puts on a fashion show each day during the festival which spotlights locally deisgned winter clothing made from fox fur, reindeer skin and wool. Handcrafted jewellery and original artwork are also on sale.