• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
The Local Guide to Christmas, Swedish Style
Stockholm at Christmas. Photo: Henrik Trygg/Imagebank

The Local Guide to Christmas, Swedish Style

The Local · 23 Dec 2013, 15:49

Published: 23 Dec 2013 15:49 GMT+01:00

'Nu är det jul igen', they all sing - but what does it mean? (Well, directly translated, 'now it's Christmas again'.) From Advent to Lucia and finally to Christmas, December in Sweden is overflowing with festivities, odd and awesome alike. Let's begin. 

Julbord

The renowned Swedish tradition of the smörgåsbord julbord transforms at Christmas time into the Julbord - literally Christmas table. The julbord is essentially a buffet of bizarre and beautiful season Swedish delicacies. These include the basics like Swedish meatballs, but often also jellied pigs' feet, Vienna sausages (known as prinskorv, prince sausages in Swedish), gravadlax - raw salmon cured in dill and lemon, and a traditional dish called Jansson's Temptation - a creamy potato dish with anchovies. Pâtés of liver and seafood are also popular. If you're doing it properly, help yourself to cold dishes first, and then return for the warm food.

A favourite traditional dessert following the julbord is rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar, and milk. Any sort of dessert using figs, such as fig parfait or ice cream or simply frozen or gratinated figs, is also popular. 

The julbord is, of course, accompanied by snaps and aqua vit - but not wine. While a small cup of glögg might be had before the buffet begins, wine with Christmas food is a rookie foreigner mistake.

IN PICTURES: Swedish Christmas Cuisine

Glögg

If you're puzzling over how to pronounce this one, just pretend you are chugging a delicious spiced drink which simply tastes like Christmas. One can say that 'glögg' is the sound you make as you gulp down another glass.

In all practicality, however, glögg is not something one chugs. The traditional warm mulled wine is served in miniature cups and is sipped slowly. Most Swedes add blanched peeled almonds and raisins to their cups. 

Bottles of glögg can be purchased in low and no-alcohol varieties at any food market during winter, though for the more full-bodied versions you'll have to head to liquor monopoly Systembolaget, but the drink can also be prepared at home. Glögg is made from red wine and spices such as cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon.

Tomte

During the last couple of decades the Swedish Tomte has gone through a bit of an identity crisis. The jolly round man known as Santa Claus in the USA goes by this name in Sweden, but originally the Tomte was a gnome - a short, wrinkly-faced mischievous man with roots in Norse paganism.

The Tomte was said to live beneath the floorboards of houses or barns, and protected livestock. He is associated with another Swedish Christmas symbol, a goat (julbock). These days perhaps the most famous incarnation is the Gävle Goat, a giant straw goat which is frequently the victim of arson as Christmas approaches - just like this year.

Several traditional Swedish Christmas songs mention the tomte - including one little ditty the Swedes love to sing as a drinking song before a julbord, 'Hej Tomtegubbar'. Roughly translated the key phrase is 'Hey, jolly gnomes, fill your glasses and let's be merry together.' And if you're going to be in Sweden over Christmas, learn this song. It's simply easier that way.

Photo: Helena Wahlman/Imagebank
Photo: Helena Wahlman/Imagebank Sweden

The Tree

Swedes have a penchant for dancing in circles around tall objects. During Midsummer they orbit around the Maypole; at Christmas, the Christmas tree. But the idea is the same. Eat, drink, be merry, and sing songs about funny little frogs as you dance around something tall and green.

The Christmas tree itself is decorated, much like in many other parts of the world - but not. While many Swedes do use glass ball ornaments as well nowadays, most still use primarily traditional ornaments made of straw, in the shapes of stars, angels, pinecones, and goats. Gingerbread cookies and paper hearts also make appearances.

Donald Duck

You thought your Swedish mates were going to put on 'It's a Wonderful Life' this Christmas? Think again. It's time for Donald Duck.

Disney's dorky and mildly devilish duck, known as Kalle Anka in Swedish, rules Christmas TV. Christmas celebrations are organised around the figure, we kid you not. Swedes adore the duck. The Disney Christmas special, 'From All of us to All of You', known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul ("Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas"), is shown at 3 pm every year on Christmas Eve.

While Donald gets all the credit, the show in fact features a whole range of classic Disney characters, from Snow White to Mickey Mouse, as well as the eponymous duck. The show was first aired in 1959, and it's been a tradition since. Each time the show, or even one portion of it has been threatened, the public response has been strong enough to restore it. In other words: It's an oldie, it's a goodie, and you can't touch it.

Another Christmas television favourite is 'Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons Julafton' by Per Åhlin, from the short story by Tage Danielsson. Made in 1975, the animated movie follows a Robin Hood style theme where wealthy Stockholmers are robbed and the bounty given to the poor.

The Christmas Calendar

Another Christmas TV tradition dates back almost as far, to 1960. The Christmas Calendar, known until 1971 as the Advent Calendar, is a yearly TV series airing one episode each day in December, culminating on Christmas Eve. The show is always aired on Swedish Television (SVT) and has some connection to Christmas.

Read more about this year's Christmas Calendar here

Julmust

Devised by Harry and Robert Robberts in 1910 as an alcohol free alternative to beer, Julmust, which is somewhat like a super sweet, spicey rootbeer, makes up more than 75 percent of drink sales in December, by far outselling Coca Cola, which is usually the most popular drink.

The syrup used in the drink is still made exclusively by the Roberts family in Örebro, though the syrup is then sold to various manufacturers who make the final product their own way. The recipe contains hops, sugar, malt aroma and spices.

The same drink is sold at Easter under a different name, påskmust, but otherwise is unavailable the rest of the year.

Story continues below…

God Jul!

Solveig Rundquist/The Local

Follow Solveig and The Local on Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'I am the whistleblower': sacked Swedbank CEO
Michael Wolf claimed that he had himself reported the non-compliant transactions. Photo: Anders Ahlgren/SvD/TT

'I am the whistleblower': sacked Swedbank CEO
4 hours ago

“I know which companies this concerns, and I made losses on them."

Karolinska head quits over scandal-hit surgeon
Professor Anders Hamsten. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Karolinska head quits over scandal-hit surgeon
8 hours ago

Karolinska Institute "failed to see the warning signs" of fraud surrounding Paolo Macchiarini.

Sweden jails Bulgarians for begging ring
Beggars from Romania and Bulgaria have become a common sight on Sweden's streets. Photo:

Sweden jails Bulgarians for begging ring
9 hours ago

Landmark case sees brothers jailed for human trafficking.

Azita Raji confirmed US envoy to Sweden
Azita Raji speaks at Barnard College in 2013. Photo: Barnard College

Azita Raji confirmed US envoy to Sweden
11 hours ago

After eight months, Sweden will finally get a US ambassador.

Video
WATCH: Rare peek at Swedish wild lynx caught on camera
File photo of lynx. Photo: AP Photo/Sergiy Gaschak

WATCH: Rare peek at Swedish wild lynx caught on camera
1 day ago

You may never get this close to these shy Swedish wild cats again.

Sacked Swedish banker suspected of shady deals
Sacked Swedbank boss Michael Wolf. Photo: Pi Frisk/SvD/TT

Sacked Swedish banker suspected of shady deals
1 day ago

UPDATED: But Sweden's biggest bank's former CEO Michael Wolf says he is the victim of a "smear campaign".

Where to find your favourite features on The Local
Read about Swedish food every Friday. Photo: Camilla Degerman/Image Bank Sweden

Where to find your favourite features on The Local
1 day ago

Find out when you can get a guaranteed food, business, property or fix or get involved in the debates The Local's readers are talking about.

Guess why this Swedish beer label got banned?

Guess why this Swedish beer label got banned?
1 day ago

Don't drink and drive pirate ships, kids.

Protesters cheer on 'refugee attack' suspects
The Nicksta camp site, where the attack was allegedly set to take place. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Protesters cheer on 'refugee attack' suspects
1 day ago

Around 100 people spent Friday morning gathered outside a Swedish court where a group of men planning a violent attack at refugee housing were appearing.

Housing crisis
Housing market cools after 2015's crazy price hikes
Apartments in Gröndal, Stockholm. Photo: Lars Persson/TT/SvD

Housing market cools after 2015's crazy price hikes
1 day ago

Property prices in Sweden are now stable or rising slowly, market experts say.

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
National
Can you spot the dildo in this photo?
Sponsored Article
Just landed? Here's the secret to finding work in Stockholm
Culture
Seven facts about the shy Swede behind the world's pop music
Travel
Why are people so happy in Malmö?
Blog updates

12 February

Editor’s blog, February 12th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Sweden’s most southern city, Malmo, hasn’t had the easiest start to the year, grabbing global…" READ »

 

9 February

Förr, förut, förrän, före and … innan! (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! A long time ago, I got this question: It would be a huge help if you could…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to set up shop in the 'Silicon Valley of Sweden'
National
Less than one percent of Swedish crimes linked to refugees
Sponsored Article
Luleå: 8 winter must-dos in Sweden's far north
Features
Single? Here are the ten Swedish words you have to learn
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Lindesberg, Örebro
Lifestyle
VIDEO: What's the fuss about Sweden's semla bun?
Sponsored Article
Swiss hospitality: The ladder to your international career
Culture
Ten fab Swedish hits for February
Sponsored Article
Ice magic at north Sweden island lodges
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: February 6th-7th
Travel
Stockholm's eight REAL no-go zones
Sponsored Article
Stockholm's secret ski resort: Kungsberget
Gallery
People-watching: February 3rd
Sponsored Article
Lofsdalen: The real Swedish wilderness
National
'How confronting the man who robbed me gave me closure'
Analysis & Opinion
DEBATE: Why are Swedes so obsessed with Nordic skiing?
Culture
See which Swedish museums are now opening up for free
Gallery
Property of the week: Insjön, Nacka
National
VIDEO: Tensions caught on camera inside Swedish asylum home
Gallery
People-Watching: January 29th - 31st
International
How will Sweden deport up to 80,000 failed asylum seekers?
Sport
When you gotta go... Swedish racing dog does poo and then takes gold
Sport
Guess who just got a HUGE pay rise?
Travel
WATCH: Five top tips for safe ice skating on Sweden's gorgeous lakes
Gallery
People-watching: January 27th
National
'Sweden could be at war within years'
3,522
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se