#SwedishChristmas: Sweden’s favourite Christmas film

#SwedishChristmas: Sweden's favourite Christmas film
Ingmar Bergman's 1982 film, Fanny and Alexander, is one of Sweden's more modern and, some might say, unorthodox Christmas traditions. Photo: SF
Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like an incredibly long film about a nice Swedish family who face a rapid succession of misfortunes that culminate in a fiery death and an ominous haunting.

Of course, when that film was written and directed by Sweden's – and maybe one of the world's – greatest filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, features a festive Swedish julbord, and first premiered in Sweden during the Christmas season, it begins to make perfect sense that Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander) is as much a part of Swedish Christmas as pepparkakor and glögg.

Bertil Guve as Alexander. Photo: SF

The Swedish tradition of watching the film Fanny and Alexander at Christmas is quite a bit newer than most Swedish Christmas traditions. The film – all three-plus hours of it – premiered in Stockholm on December 17th, 1982, to great anticipation, not least because Bergman had announced it was to be his final work (it wasn't). In 1983, a five-hour version was released as a television mini-series. An immediate hit in Sweden, it also earned international acclaim, including four Academy Awards.

Despite not being a film specifically about Christmas, Fanny and Alexander, which is set in Sweden in the early 1900s, begins with a magnificent Christmas celebration hosted by a well-off family. These vivid and intense early scenes comprise only a small part of the film, but make an indelible impression. The imagery of the extravagant julbord is even echoed in the praise heaped upon the film, as when Swedish film critic Stig Björkman described Fanny and Alexander as, “a banquet of seldom seen richness and splendor”.

According to Bergman biographer Mikael Timm, “The film very quickly became such a popular, well-established concept that today the Swedes talk about 'Fanny and Alexander decorations' in store display windows, 'Fanny and Alexander celebrations' during the Christmas holidays, 'Fanny and Alexander families,' et cetera”.

The Fanny and Alexander-effect Timm refers to manifests itself in a variety of ways, from special screenings of the film in Swedish theatres to elaborate Christmas window displays. Ultimately, however, the practice of this particular Christmas tradition can be as simple as curling up on the sofa with enough supplies to last between three and five hours and watching the film.

Each day until Christmas Eve, we're looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series HERE.

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