• 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
Police resources back to normal after terror threat
The headquarters where Säpo, Sweden's security police is based. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedish police say they're no longer deploying extra resources following a reported terror threat in the run-up to Eurovision.

Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
Photo: David Lagerlöf/Expo/TT

Swedes are calling this picture an instant icon.

Opinion
'Swedes, please give your sperm a purpose'
File picture of an embryo. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

Swedish men should stop jerking off in public places and start donating sperm to help single women have babies, argues Stockholm-based writer Matilda Karlsson.

Petrol firm tries to woo women to pumps with new name
A Statoil station in Enköping. Photo: Fredrik Strandberg/TT

A Statoil petrol station in Stockholm today becomes the first in Europe to get a makeover.

Half of Swedes support law banning begging
A man begs for money on Hamngatan in central Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Only one political party in Sweden wants a ban on begging, but half the population shares their view, a new survey shows.

Presented by Stockholm University
Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
Photo: Stockholm University

Thousands of outstanding researchers from across the globe have chosen to make Stockholm University their home and hub. What is it that attracts them? We asked.

Stockholm taxi drivers 'help clients find prostitutes'
A Taxi Stockholm car driving in the capital. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Drivers from Stockholm’s biggest taxi firm are suspected of helping fuel the sex trade despite the purchase of sex being illegal in Sweden.

Eurovision 2016
Eurovision set for US as gay channel announces live show
Eurovision flags flying in Stockholm this week. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Now you can watch Eurovision in the US too.

'Isis' kids get taken into care in central Sweden
File picture of children in the middle east. Photo: AP /Manu Brabo

Three siblings authorities feared could be forced to go abroad to get married or fight alongside extremists have been taken into care in central Sweden.

Eurovision 2016
Palestine envoy angry at 'insulting' flag ban
The Palestinian flag (left) was included on the same banned list as that of Islamic State (right)

The Palestinian Ambassador to Sweden has waded into the row over a Eurovision ban on the Palestinian flag calling it "insulting" and "a big mistake".

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
Sweden set for sunny weekend
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vollsjö, Sjöbo
Features
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
Blog updates

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 

18 April

A day as a guard (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Life as an Ambassador. Driven around in the Jaguar. Visits all planned so you go straight…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
Gallery
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 13th
National
Is booze going up in Sweden?
National
How Sweden's fake 'smombie' traffic sign is being used for real
3,278
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