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

How to celebrate New Year's Eve like a Swede: six essential traditions
New Year's celebrations in Stockholm. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
What on earth does Ivanhoe have to do with New Year's celebrations anyway?

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, or 'The Countess and the Butler') in 1969 and 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 has never been 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 floating around – the original which is shown every year in Germany and Denmark and a shorter Swiss one which is shown in Sweden. A former member of The Local's team once revealed he was made to watch it during his first New Year's celebrations in Sweden: “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.

READ ALSO: Sweden's weirdest New Year's Eve habit explained

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.

It will be on at 3pm on TV3, New Year's Day.

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 Lena Endre). Ideally, they should time the poem so that they finish it just as the bells begin to 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).

Swedish actress Margaretha Krook reciting the poem in 1998. Photo: Jack Mikrut/TT

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 the country's parliament that January 1st should be turned into Kebab Pizza Day to honour the culinary monstrosity. Best combined with Ivanhoe above and a fortnight's detox of vegetables.

Kebab pizza. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

5. The Hug

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 but will be closed on December 30th as it's a Sunday and on the 1st as it's a public holiday. Get there early to avoid the queues. 

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before you party with Swedes

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

Article first published in December 2016 and updated in 2019

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  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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