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12 things you only get if you’ve celebrated Christmas in Sweden

Warning: Some of this may only make sense to you if you've ever celebrated Christmas in Sweden.

12 things you only get if you've celebrated Christmas in Sweden
Why aren't you coming down the chimney, Santa? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

1. You would never call a Swede at 3pm on Christmas Eve. Because Donald Duck.

Christmas is a time of family, good food and irate ducks. Photo: SVT

2. You’ve tried eating the meatballs before the pickled herring. And it made you the least popular person at the julbord.

READ ALSO: An idiot’s guide to the Swedish julbord

3. Pickled herring in general. Just saying.

You even have a favourite kind of pickled herring, be it senapssill or löksill. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

4. You know which Julkalender is the best one. Even though you’ve never actually seen it.

And it’s probably this one. Photo: Stefan Lindblom/TT

5. You would never say påskmust is the same as julmust. You learned this the hard way.

But isn’t it just the la…? No, not it’s not just the label (although it is). Photo: Henrik Montgomery/Jessica Gow/TT

6. You even have a favourite brand of julmust. And it’s probably the one your Swedish partner has told you to like.

Which one is your favourite? Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

7. You have these in every window. From the First Sunday of Advent to Tjugondag Knut.

It’s pretty! Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

8. You know what Tjugondag Knut is. And struggle to explain it to non-Swedish friends.

So… er… it’s 20 days after Christmas… and Knut is… er… Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

9. You know the lyrics to Hej Tomtegubbar. Because you were forced to learn this Christmas drinking song and now you can’t get it out of your head even if you sing Feliz Navidad ten times in a row.

10. You know that Jultomten eats rice porridge and not milk and cookies. You also know the difference between the Jultomte (Santa Claus) and the Swedish tomte (a very short and angry man who looks after your house).

READ ALSO: Six weird Swedish Christmas foods to try if you’re brave

You also know what happens when there’s an almond in your porridge. Photo: Kenneth Paulsson/TT

11. You are able to instantly fake joy the second you unwrap your Christmas presents. Because in Sweden everyone opens their presents one by one as the rest of the family looks on (julklappsutdelning), so you don’t even have a chance to let your disappointment settle before you are put in the spotlight.

We think this may not be the real Santa. Photo: Jan Collsiöö/TT

12. You know the answer to the question “Finns det några snälla barn…?” You say yes, but think no.

Are there any good children here…? Photo: Bert Mattsson/TT

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For members


The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

If you've spent Christmas or Midsummer in Sweden before, you'll probably recognise lots of the dishes at a Swedish Easter celebration. Here's our guide, as well as some vegetarian alternatives.

The must-have dishes for a Swedish Easter celebration

A traditional Swedish Easter menu is very similar to a Christmas julbord, although slightly lighter, with a focus on eggs and fish rather than the winter season’s cabbage and kale dishes. Here’s our rundown of what you should expect, as well as how you can make it yourself.


The most important part of the Easter table for many Swedes is the pickled herring (sill). In many families, one particular member of the family will be tasked with preparing the herring for the Easter meal weeks in advance.

If you’re based in Sweden, you can buy herring in the supermarket, although most will say that homemade pickled herring is superior. Vegetarian or vegan pickled herring substitutes such as svill (made from mushrooms) and tofusill (made from tofu) are also commercially available.

If you are planning on making your own pickled herring for Easter, you have a few options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets in the supermarket which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

You can also make your own vegetarian options: try pickling aubergine, courgette or tofu. Most recipes will take at least two days, with the herring or alternative of choice needing to marinate overnight before serving, so get planning now if you want to have it on the table for Saturday.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.


Most Easter tables will feature at least two sorts of salmon, one is often a baked side of salmon. You’ll often see smoked salmon and gravad lax (literally “buried”, preserved in salt, sugar and often dill) alongside hovmästarsås, a mustard and dill sauce which is also served at Christmas.

If you don’t eat fish, you can make a vegetarian or vegan version of gravad lax from carrots. This is usually referred to as gravad morot. Here’s a recipe (in Swedish) from the book Vegansk husmanskost by Gustav Johansson. Again, it needs to be marinated overnight, so make sure to plan this in advance.

Scrambled egg with cod roe, truffle and dill served in eggshells. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT


No Easter meal would be complete without eggs. The most usual form of eggs you’ll see is cold, hardboiled eggs sliced in half. Some people will also top these half-eggs with mayonnaise, prawns and cod roe, known as kaviar in Swedish. This is sold in small glass jars in the fridge section of the supermarket, and can be orange or black – not the same as Kalles kaviar!

To make these vegetarian, you can leave out the prawns and use a vegetarian version of kaviar made from seaweed. Look for tångkaviar, which may be in the fish section of the supermarket, or the vegetarian section, if your supermarket has one of these.

If you live outside Sweden, you may be able to source tångkaviar in the food market at your local Ikea.

For a vegan option, try sliced tofu topped with vegan mayonnaise (spiked with black salt, if you can get hold of it, which will give it an eggy flavour). Top with tångkaviar and a sprig of dill and you’re good to go.

Matjes-style herring served with crispbread, boiled new potatoes with dill, cheese and diced onions. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Boiled potatoes with dill

This is pretty self-explanatory. Boiled new potatoes with their skins on, served cold with dill.

Jansson’s temptation

Although more of a Christmas dish, some families also serve Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, at Easter.

Jansson’s is made using Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option, which also has the benefit of being vegetarian, could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Goat’s cheese filled lamb fillets with beans and tenderstem broccoli. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT


Roast lamb is also becoming more and more popular at Easter, usually as a roast joint of lamb or a rack of lamb.

This can be difficult to make a convincing vegetarian version of, but vegetarian meatballs or sausages could be a good substitute at your Easter buffet.

Easter egg

If there’s one thing you definitely shouldn’t forget at Easter, it’s the Easter eggs. Swedish Easter eggs are less chocolatey than in other countries. The eggs themselves are not edible – they are made of cardboard with Easter-themed designs – and are filled with sweets. 

These are easy to make vegetarian or vegan, just double-check that any sweets you include don’t contain animal-derived gelatin, and leave out the milk chocolate for any vegans.