Having just spent my eighth winter holiday period in Sweden I am starting to understand a few things better, and sometimes understanding does not go hand in hand with appreciation.
My big Aha moment this festive season has been an appreciation for the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray plays a TV weather guy who is forced to repeat the same day over and over again. Sitting at my parents-in-law’s living room watching TV on December 24th was my Groundhog Day moment.
“Donald Duck TV is on”, my wife announced at three o’clock. I rarely watch TV but this year I joined with the whole family gathered around in excitement to watch Disney’s perennial franchise on Swedish Christmas. Episode after episode the adults laughed and discussed what was coming next. It felt like watching Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – you have seen it 100 times and know every scene by heart but you watch it and laugh anyway.
Naively I asked if they proffered new cartoons every Christmas and learned that, no, it was the same but the final cartoon was different every year, usually promoting the latest Disney movie being released that season. How many years have Swedes been watching the same cartoons at three o’clock every December 24th, was my next “new boy on the block” question. “Well, since we got TV in 1960 I can remember watching these cartoons,” replied one of the adults chuckling through the toy factory cartoon. Groundhog Day moment 1.
I surprised the family with some good bottles of riesling to serve with the world’s best herring which offered a small variation to the amazing Christmas feast on offer. Then an argument broke out between the kids and the adults over what to watch next on TV. The adults won and I settled into the sofa with a great glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape 2000 to see me through this exciting entertainment the adults were so insistent on watching. My hopes were set on a new Swedish family comedy or, at worst, a re-run of the Bionic Man Christmas episode with Steve Majors and Farrah Fawcett.
Groundhog Day moment 2 hit me hard and left a sour gritty taste in my mouth. I realised that the bad taste was from the sediment from the bottom of the wine glass from big gulp I took when the TV screen came to life.
The Story of Karl-Bertil Jonsson’s Christmas Eve cartoon has been been shown in Swedish TV at seven o’clock every Christmas Eve since 1975. The first time I saw it I admired the anti-consumerism message and the example of giving to the poor. This year the nuances of the cartoon were more interesting, including: digs at the Swedish wealthy (those earning more than 50,000kr a year according to the Tax Calendar) during the inter-war period; the Nazi flag, amongst others, on their car; and the poster on Karl-Bertil’s wall of a tiger and the slogan “En Svensk Tiger”, which was a reminder for war time Swedes to keep quiet about what was happening with the Germans and be neutral.
I admire the tradition and wholesome message of the Christmas TV programmes but the messages must lose their effect after the 12th or 13th viewing! I wonder if our wine customers would appreciate being sent the same bottle of 1975 vintage riesling every December?
After 33 years of watching the same TV shows on Christmas Eve it is no wonder that many families flee Sweden, if they can – to the same hotel in Thailand every year perhaps? We are after all, creatures of habit.
Mark Majzner is an Australian and the founder of Antipodes Premium Wines, a partner of The Local, which operates wine clubs including Australian Wine Club and Fine Wine Society. He also maintains an even flow on the Wine Freedom Weblog.