#SwedishChristmas: The festive Swedish songs just for adults

#SwedishChristmas: The festive Swedish songs just for adults
Hey all you Swedish Santas, bang your glasses and have some fun with a few of the Swedish drinking songs known as snapsvisor. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

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You have an adventsljusstake (Advent candelabra) in every window. You've been to at least six Swedish Christmas markets in the past few weeks, and have stuffed yourself at a julbord (Christmas dinner) or three. You got teary-eyed at the Lucia day procession and afterwards ate the obligatory lussekatter (saffron bun).

By now, you're probably feeling pretty Swedish. So why not celebrate like a Swede with a shot of snaps (a spirit like aquavit or vodka) accompanied by the very Swedish tradition of singing a silly song known as a snapsvisa?

“The songs are characterized by the fact that they are sung to accompany the snaps, to the tune of a well-known melody. They are short, and often humorous, with a twist at the end. An unknown melody or long and contrived lyrics prevents a song from being spread by word of mouth, which is another defining characteristic for the Swedish drinking song,” according to the Stockholm Spritmuseum.

The tradition of the Swedish drinking song originated among Swedish university students in the mid-1800s, when Sweden was, in the words of the early-20th century chronicler Oscar Gustaf von Heidenstam, “the most drunken country in Europe“. Fortunately, Sweden got through this dark period, and the snapsvisor tradition managed to survive in spite of, and even because of, the alcohol reforms of the mid-19th to early-20th century.

“The presence and role of snapsvisor were actually strengthened by all the laws and regulations, along with Swedes' somewhat complicated relationship with alcohol,” Eva Lenneman, curator at the Spritmuseum, explains. “The songs grew in popularity and became quite folksy and affable when the alcohol reforms and the motbok (liquor ration book) were introduced. Many songs are on the theme of the prohibitions and mock the reform and the abstainers during that time. It became a way for the people to vent their frustrations and thoughts”.

Countless snapsvisor exist for nearly every celebratory occasion on the Swedish calendar, including Christmas. One popular Christmas snapsvisa is “Hej tomtegubbar”, which originated in the early-1800s as a folksong, but was adapted as a drinking song by the end of the century. The song invites all jultomtar (Swedish Santas) to bang their glasses and have fun.

If you're not sure how to take part in this particular Swedish tradition, the Stockholm Spritmuseum has a variety of general snapsvisor available online in English, as well as several specific to Christmas in Swedish. You can also find videos online of Swedes singing snapsvisor, such as this one of the most famous snapsvisa, “Helan går”, which can be sung with a snaps on any occasion, including Christmas.


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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