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

The Local Guide to Christmas, Swedish Style

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

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.

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
Copenhagen shootings
Sweden artist talk halted after terror shootings
Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Photo: TT

Sweden artist talk halted after terror shootings

A planned lecture at Sweden's Karlstad University by the controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, the presumed target of the terror attack at a cultural event in Copenhagen earlier this month, has been scrapped by organisers. READ  

Surprise growth spurt for Sweden's economy
Sweden's economy is growing faster than expected. Photo: TT

Surprise growth spurt for Sweden's economy

Sweden's economy grew more than expected at the end of last year, with GDP rising by 1.1 percent between the third and fourth quarter, according to new figures from Statistics Sweden. READ  

Swedes to form 'ring of peace' at synagogue
A ring of peace around a synagogue in Oslo. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB scanpix/TT

Swedes to form 'ring of peace' at synagogue

Hundreds of young Swedes are set to form a 'ring of peace' around a synagogue in Stockholm on Friday afternoon, in a show of solidarity two weeks after Jews were among those targeted in a pair of deadly shootings in Copenhagen. READ  

War criminals could go unpunished in Sweden
Tora Holst, head of the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm. Photo: Marc Femenia/SCANPIX

War criminals could go unpunished in Sweden

War criminals could walk free in Sweden because there are too few police officers to investigate the suspected offences, prosecutors have warned. READ  

Swedes' coffee passion could cut nerve disease
Swedes are among Europe's biggest coffee drinkers. Photo: Helena Wahlman/Image Bank Sweden

Swedes' coffee passion could cut nerve disease

Few people drink more coffee than the Swedes and now research funded by the Swedish Medical Council has suggested that those who have four to six cups a day may be less likely to get multiple sclerosis (MS). READ  

The Local Recipes
How to make a Swedish 'pyttipanna' fry-up
Pyttipanna with pickled beetroot and a fried egg. Photo: John Duxbury

How to make a Swedish 'pyttipanna' fry-up

Famous Swedish meal 'pyttipanna' has seen a revamp in recent years. This traditional comfort food used to be a way of using up leftovers, but is nowadays often spotted in trendy restaurants. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local. READ  

Dead Ski World Cup man was on geocaching trip
Police close to where the body was found on Tuesday. Photo: TT

Dead Ski World Cup man was on geocaching trip

A man who was found dead in the town currently hosting the Ski World Cup on Tuesday had been geocaching, a kind of scavenger hunt done using GPS, police believe. READ  

Five years in Swedish jail for Syrian 'torture' man
Free Syrian Army fighters in a separate incident in Raqqa in 2012. Photo: TT

Five years in Swedish jail for Syrian 'torture' man

UPDATED: A 28-year-old Syrian man living in Sweden has been sentenced to five years in jail for violence in Syria in 2012. The former Free Syrian Army fighter is one of just three people convicted in the Nordic nation over the past decade for crimes carried out abroad. READ  

Should Swedish second hand shops pay VAT?
Vintage and charity stores are all the rage in Sweden. Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/Image Bank Sweden

Should Swedish second hand shops pay VAT?

Sweden's second hand store scene is booming but a long-running row over whether charity shops should pay tax on sales (VAT) is yet to be sewn up. On Thursday the EU said it wouldn't take action against Sweden if it decided all not-for-profit firms could be exempt, but the Swedish government and tax agency weren't yet in agreement. READ  

Accelerated for Ice Music
Dylan guitarist to take Ice Music stage in Sweden
Charlie Sexton (l) and Phoebe Hunt (r) look on as Ice Music co-founder Tim Linhart examines an ice violin. Photo: Luleåfotograferna

Dylan guitarist to take Ice Music stage in Sweden

Bob Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton and other Texas musicians are in a race against the clock to get acquainted with "magical" ice instruments just days before performing on the Ice Music stage in Luleå in northern Sweden. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Meet Sweden's first woman chef to win a Michelin star
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: February 26th - March 5th
Accelerated
What is Bob Dylan's guitarist doing in northern Sweden?
Features
How well do you know Sweden's top celebrity couples?
Business & Money
Are company boards 'too white' in Sweden?
Blog updates

20 February

Editor’s blog, February 20th (The Local Sweden) »

"Two deadly shootings over the border in Copenhagen – including one presumed to be aimed at..." READ »

 

18 February

The mysterious -s, part 2 (The Swedish Teacher) »

"-s expressing “each other” (reciprocal verbs) You have most likely used this form of the verbs..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
People-watching: February 25th
Technology
Sweden is dubbed second most 'digital' nation in European Union
National
Why more Swedes want a sex change
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
National
The return of Sweden's Ace of Base
National
Why has Julian Assange's case been going on for so long?
National
'21' or 'IS'? Swedish police confuse birthday with Islamist extremism
National
Spring has sprung in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Ängelholm
National
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Business & Money
Ten Swedish start-ups you haven't heard of (yet)
National
Is Sweden home to the world's oldest living cat?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The life and career of Fredrik Reinfeldt
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why are Swedish Jews worried?
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Gallery
People-watching: February 19th-22nd
National
'Racist' bird names banned in Sweden
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Nobel prize to go under hammer
National
Swede named 'Fanny' banned from getting UK loyalty card
National
Spotlight on the Swedes that could be funding Islamists
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Gallery
People-watching: February 18th
National
Is a chocolate crime wave sweeping across Sweden?
National
What we know about the Copenhagen shootings suspect
National
Danish Ambassador: 'We'll live our lives the way we always have'
National
What does this '90s pop act have to do with a former minister?
Lifestyle
How to embrace Sweden's creamy semla bun tradition
National
Did this Swedish hotel really refuse a gay couple?
National
Why are so many escalators down on Stockholm's Metro?
Gallery
Property of the week: Kungsbacka
National
Can Zlatan's tattoo stunt help end world hunger?
Gallery
People-watching: February 14th
Lars Vilks
National
Who exactly is controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks?
Lifestyle
VIDEO: How to tackle Sweden's bizarre mating rituals
Sponsored Article
'Immigration is critical' for Stockholm’s future
Lifestyle
How to make traditional Swedish blackberry pie
National
What the weak krona means for expats and visitors to Sweden
National
What's in a Swedish meatball?
National
Spotlight on 32 Swedish Isis fighters killed in Syria and Iraq
Business & Money
Why has Sweden's central bank cut interest rates to a record low?
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

986
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
Counselling and Psychotherapy in English
Sometimes living in another culture can cause stress, confusion and feelings of sadness and loneliness. Talking to a professional psychotherapist/counsellor might help you. I am a UKCP Reg. psychotherapist. My practice is in Södermalm, Stockholm.
Contact me to discuss your options