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CHRISTMAS

Swedish gift guide: Ten last-minute ideas for Christmas this year

Still wondering what to get that last person on your Christmas list? We can't promise that all of these things will arrive on time, but they will at least save you from having to resort to an elk-shaped cheese slicer from an overpriced souvenir shop.

Swedish gift guide: Ten last-minute ideas for Christmas this year
Here's The Local's guide to Swedish Christmas presents. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sami handcraft

The Sami, the indigenous people based in northern Sweden, are known for their fine craftsmanship, and items such as pewter bracelets, artwork or blankets featuring traditional patterns, or jewellery made from engraved reindeer horns are sure to make a unique gift.

If you’re in northern Sweden, there are many shops selling authentic pieces, including Ájtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum in Jokkmokk; Risfjells Sameslöjd in Vilhelmina; and Carl Wennberg in Kiruna. Further south, you can also find genuine Sami crafts (in central Stockholm, visit Svensk Hemslöjd), but be aware of scams and try to check that your purchases are authentic

Dala horses

Originally a children’s toy, the Dala Horse (short for Dalecarlian Horse) has its origins in the central Swedish region of Dalarna. Nowadays, the small wooden figures have become some a symbol for Sweden: you’ll see them in many homes and in many forms, from fridge magnets to soft toys.

The horses are traditionally carved by hand from pinewood and covered with a primer that coats them in a hard shell and removes natural imperfections. After that, the horses are painted, often in red, and then decorated with a traditional kurbits pattern, which also has its origins in Dalarna. Because of the hand-carving, no two original horses look alike, making for a unique gift available in gift, craft and homeware shops across the country.


Dala horses come in different sizes, each one is unique. Photo: Amanda Westerbom/imagebank.sweden.se

Spirits

Sweden might have strict regulations when it comes to the sale of alcohol, but the state-run monopoly Systembolaget stocks a large range of spirits and other drinks, making it easy to browse for the perfect gift.

Why not buy some warming glögg (Swedish mulled wine) or Akvavit, Swedish schnapps made with various spices, such as dill and fennel? Or, if that feels like too obvious a gift, or not suitable for the people on your list, you could also get some Swedish wine, which is a growing industry in the country over the last few years and which benefited from the unusually hot summer.

Try Ästad Vingård in Skåne or Gute Vingård in Gotland for some inspiration and a variety of wines.

You’ll have to be quick though: Systembolaget is open until 7pm on December 22nd and 23rd, after which they will close until December 27th.

The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life

In Villa, Volvo, Vovve, written by The Local’s journalists, we explore over 100 Swedish words, including how to use them, when to avoid them, and the history of how they came to be. You’ll learn about Sweden beyond the headlines, beyond the tourist guides, the good, the bad, and the bizarre.

This book will help you if you’re travelling to Sweden, or even living there, to understand what’s going on around you. But it’s also a handbook for anyone who wants to embrace the Nordic way of life. Who knows, maybe you’ll even discover the elusive Scandinavian secrets to happiness along the way.

Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

READ ALSO: Villa Volvo Vovve: The Local publishes new book on life in Sweden

Event tickets

Sweden’s Christmas gift of the year for 2021 is tickets to an event, which although it may appear at first glance as a gift that did not age well in these pandemic times, actually has the benefit of being a great last-minute gift as you don’t need to wait for it to be delivered.

Although events are a risky gift at the moment with pandemic restrictions and recommendations changing every week or so, tickets can also give the recipient something to look forward to in the coming year, if you buy them for later in 2022 or even further ahead.

Sweets

Swedish people love sweets, with pick’n’mix aisles often taking pride of place in the supermarket, and plenty of shops dedicated to candy. You can get a selection of typically Swedish goodies, such as Marabou and Daim chocolate, liquorice everything, or Christmassy knäck.

For something a little more upmarket than a paper bag full of supermarket treats, try visiting luxury sweet shops Chokladfabriken or Pärlans Konfektyr, or pop into Lakritsroten which sells liquorice in every form and flavour imaginable at multiple locations in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.


A liquorice store in Stockholm. Photo: Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

A Swedish novel

… just make sure you pick up the English (or other) language version if the recipient isn’t a native Swede.

The choices are almost endless. For children, you could look for a beautifully illustrated Astrid Lindgren or Gunilla Bergström book, and for adults there are of course hundreds of Swedish crime novels available in multiple languages.

Consider finding a book set in your local area so that your friend can learn more about your Swedish neighbourhood: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy if you’re in Stockholm for example. And the Jerry-Maya Detective Agency (LasseMajas detektivbyrå) series by Martin Widmark is a great introduction to the genre for young readers (or Swedish-learners!).

But it’s not all about murder and mystery. Fredrik Backman writes internationally acclaimed popular fiction including A Man Called Ove, or try Lena Andersson’s award-winning Wilful Disregard or Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri.

Swedish fish

We’re not suggesting you present your loved ones with a tin of surströmming, Swedish fermented herring, at Christmas (unless they’re adventurous eaters). Some airlines have even forbidden cans containing the smelly fish, due to explosion risks caused by the gas inside the cans.

But you can always go a bit tamer and present them with some regular pickled herring, or some gravad lax. Both of these things exist outside of Sweden, but any Swede will insist their take on the fishy dishes is the best worldwide.

Another uniquely Swedish thing is caviar in a tube, which might make a fun stocking stuffer.


Caviar in a tube. Photo: Anders Wiklund/SCANPIX/TT

Woodwork

Sweden has a lot of trees, therefore Sweden has a lot of wood, which is used in many cases for making useful household items, such as kitchen utensils.

Well-crafted spoons, mugs and bowls, cutting boards or butter knives make a thoughtful gift (they’re a particularly good choice for in-laws or distant family whose tastes you don’t know well), and you can pick these up at any gift or home decor shop. These are usually handmade from softer woods, such as birch or pine. 


Butter and crisp bread. Photo: Leif R Jansson/SCANPIX/TT

Give The Local as a gift

Finally, if you have a friend or family member you think might appreciate reading more about Sweden in the new year, why not give them a one-year Membership of The Local? Membership gives you unlimited access to all our editions, and helps support our independent journalism in the year ahead.

Article originally written by Nele Schröder in 2018, updated by Becky Waterton in December 2021.

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CHRISTMAS

How to make your own Christmas julbord if you live outside Sweden

Planning a Swedish Christmas meal – the scrumptious julbord – outside of Sweden this year? Here are The Local's tips on how you can make your own julbord, and where to source essential ingredients.

a swedish julbord
How can you source your essential julbord ingredients outside of Sweden? Here's our guide. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT

Not sure what a julbord is? Here’s our guide.

Plan the menu

The first, and perhaps most obvious step, is to decide what you want to serve at your julbord. There’s no point making ten different kinds of herring if there will only be a few of you eating, and it may not be necessary to source real Swedish prinskorvar if your guests are happy with some cold cuts and Christmas ham.

You can also let your menu be dictated by what you can get hold of, and what you can manage to make yourself – homemade meatballs use relatively simple, easy-to-source ingredients, whereas you might have trouble sourcing sprats or ansjovis for Janssons temptation, depending on where you live.

A handy list of recipes for Swedish julbord staples can be found on John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website here. Simply pick your favourites from each category, and get cooking.

What can you buy ready-made?

Once you’ve planned your julbord and decided what you want to include, split your dishes up into what you can buy where you live and what you need to make yourself. In some countries, you may be lucky enough to have a dedicated Scandinavian food shop with delivery – such as Scandikitchen in the UK or Nordic House in the US – in which case you’ll have a wide range of foods to choose from.

Most sides, like red cabbage, brown cabbage, kale, potatoes and beetroot salad are made from easily-available ingredients which you should be able to source wherever you are, so they shouldn’t be an issue.

An Ikea food market in Norway. But did you realise you could buy your julskinka here? Photo: Heiko Junge/Scanpix/TT

A surprisingly good source for hard-to-find julbord essentials is Ikea, who offer meatballs (both normal and vegetarian), prinskorvar, Christmas ham, herring and salmon in their food markets, as well as julmust, pepparkakor, crispbread and Swedish cheeses. Their choice is limited and many of their items are frozen, so you may need to plan ahead to make sure you can get hold of everything you need in time.

What do you have to make yourself?

If you don’t have an Ikea or a Scandinavian food shop close by, then you’ll have to make some dishes yourself. Here’s what you should keep in mind for your Swedish Christmas essentials.

Christmas ham

A Swedish Christmas ham or julskinka is made from fresh, unsmoked, salt-cured ham. For best results, it should still include the pork skin and fat. Gammon joints are suitable for making julskinka as they are uncooked and unsmoked, but it may be a good idea to ask your butcher for help.

A Christmas ham is usually boiled and then glazed with mustard and breadcrumbs and finished in the oven, but you can also try roasting it – although this is not traditional. Here is The Local’s list of Christmas ham recipes for you to try.

Herring is an essential part of many Swedish holiday celebrations. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Herring

If you want to pickle your own herring, you have two options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets 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.

Ask your local fishmonger if they can source ready-salted herring fillets for pickling, and if they can’t help you, try looking in Polish, Dutch or German grocery shops (or your local supermarket if you’re based in one of these countries) – pickled herring is not only popular in Sweden, so you might get lucky.

Can’t find suitable herring? Consider a vegetarian alternative – recipes exist for pickled courgette, aubergine, tofu and mushroom. They obviously don’t taste exactly the same, but may be a better alternative than avoiding the herring course completely.

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

Meatballs

Swedish meatballs are relatively easy to make at home, but one important thing to note – especially if you are using a Swedish recipe – is that meatballs are often made from blandfärs in Sweden. This is simply a mixture of beef and pork mince – often a simple 50:50 ratio – so you can just mix the two types of mince yourself if this is not available where you live.

Here’s The Local’s Christmas meatball recipe.

Bread

Depending on the type of bread you want for your Christmas dinner, you may have to bake it yourself. Wort bread (or vörtbröd in Sweden) is made from wort, a by-product of beer-brewing, but you can try substituting a dark beer such as a porter if you can’t get hold of wort.

Fresh yeast – the most common type of yeast in Sweden – is not readily available in all countries, but this can be substituted for dry yeast. Just divide the amount of fresh yeast by three to find out how much dry yeast you should use. For example, a recipe requiring one 50g packet of fresh yeast would need around 17g of dry yeast.

Crispbread may also be hard to get hold of outside of Sweden. Try looking in delis or cheesemongers, or look for similar alternatives such as Ryvita. You can also bake your own – it requires no kneading and no yeast, so is a good project for beginner bread-bakers.

Here’s a recipe for homemade crispbread.

Tinned sprats or ansjovis are essential for a Jansson’s temptation. But what can you do if you can’t get hold of them? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Jansson’s temptation

Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, can be difficult to make if you can’t source 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 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. This also has the benefit of giving you a vegetarian version of the popular casserole, which may be useful if any of your guests don’t eat meat.

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

Drinks

The main drinks offered at a julbord are julmust and glögg. Your best bet for sourcing julmust is probably Ikea, where they sell their own brand under the name vintersaga. If you can’t get hold of it, we’ve heard reports of people mixing low-alcohol beer and Coca Cola for a similar taste, although we have no idea if this tastes anything like the original, so try at your own risk… Otherwise, root beer is an option.

If you skip the julmust, it’s worth knowing that wine is not part of a traditional julbord, but beer is comme il faut.

You’ll be pleased to know that glögg is easy to make at home. Here’s a recipe from The Local’s archives.

Are there any julbord essentials we’ve missed? Let us know and we’ll be sure to update our guide if we can help!

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