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SWEDISH TRADITIONS

How to celebrate New Year’s Eve like a Swede: six essential traditions

What on earth does Ivanhoe have to do with New Year's celebrations anyway?

How to celebrate New Year's Eve like a Swede: six essential traditions
New Year's celebrations in Stockholm. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

1. Dinner for One

“The same procedure as every year, James.”

This English line has become a familiar catchphrase in Sweden. Swedish TV first broadcast Dinner for One (Grevinnan och betjänten in Swedish, literally “The Countess and the Butler”) in 1969 and it has been shown nearly every year on New Year’s Eve since 1976. Despite being a British stage sketch in English with British actors, it was never shown in Britain, so even British visitors are usually very puzzled when their Swedish hosts insist on watching this obscure piece of slapstick theatre.

There are two versions – the original which is shown in Germany and Denmark and a shorter Swiss one which is shown in Sweden. As one person told us: “The Swede sat in stitches while everyone else stared blank-faced. It was the most awkward thing I’ve ever done.”

This year it will be shown at 7.45pm on SVT1.


Freddie Frinton and May Warden in Dinner for One. Photo: SVT

2. Ivanhoe

Sweden’s perhaps weirdest New Year’s tradition takes place on January 1st, when – despite many an aching head and probably a few sore tummies after the previous night’s revelry – many Swedes settle in for their annual treat: the 1982 film adaptation of Ivanhoe.

It was first shown in Sweden that same year by public broadcaster SVT. These days it’s on TV3, but if you don’t have access to that channel, you could always follow Swedish newspapers’ Ivanhoe live blogs (yes, they do this) or the hordes of Swedes pestering poor Sam Neill, who plays the bad guy, on Twitter.

3. Lord Tennyson

The Swedish translation of Alfred Tennyson’s old poem Ring Out, Wild Bells (Nyårsklockan) has been read out at Stockholm outdoor museum Skansen since the mid-1890s. This day it is shown live by public broadcaster SVT and at least the older generation of Swedes will still gather in front of their television to watch it as the clock turns to midnight before watching the fireworks.

It is usually read by a famous actor (this year the honour falls to Reine Brynolfsson). Ideally, they should time the poem so that they finish it just as the bells strike midnight (if they don’t manage that, the whole performance will be labelled a failure by the tabloids the next day).

Watch a version from 1930 here (only available in Sweden).

4. Kebab pizza

The kebab pizza is exactly what it sounds like: a pizza topped with doner meat and finished with ambiguously titled “kebab sauce”. It also happens to be one of the most popular forms of pizza ordered by Swedes (apologies to Italy and Turkey). According to pizza delivery company Online Pizza, Swedes order the food more on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year.

It is not an official tradition yet, but that is certainly not for lack of trying. A Liberal MP even once proposed to parliament that January 1st should be turned into Kebab Pizza Day to honour the culinary monstrosity. Best combined with Ivanhoe and a fortnight’s detox of vegetables.


Kebab pizza. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

5. The Hug

Covid gives you a chance to avoid this, but in normal times, when the clock strikes midnight, be prepared to hug every single person in the room. You may already have forgotten their names after shaking hands with them earlier in the evening, but you are now Hugging Friends Forever. Don’t even think about going for a French air kiss on the cheek instead.

6. The Bubbles

Time for a drink to help you through all this confusing Swedish etiquette? Don’t help yourself to whatever is open in the kitchen. Swedes bring their own alcohol to parties, often keeping it in a neat plastic bag throughout the night. The same rule sometimes, but not always, applies for non-alcoholic beverages.

The rules are slightly more flexible on New Year’s Eve, but just to be on the safe side it is probably best to bring your own small bottle of champagne if you want to have a toast at midnight. Systembolaget, Sweden’s state-run alcohol stores, will stay open until 3pm on December 31st. Get there early to avoid the queues. 


These are my bubbles. Get your own bubbles. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Article first published in December 2016 and updated in 2021.

Member comments

  1. Interesting…….when I first went to Sweden 30 years ago, there was a definite distance between huggers of about 15cm – 20cms…..over the years this has come down drastically……what a difference Europe makes!!!……Michael

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EASTER

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.

Herring

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.

Salmon

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

Eggs

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

Lamb

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.

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