Swedish word of the day: pumla

the word pumla on a black background by a swedish flag
What do you call the decorations on your Christmas tree? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

Today we’re looking into a festive Swedish word that might just spark a lively debate around the julbord.

That word is pumla, a dialect term for a Christmas bauble, which becomes pumlor in the plural.

In standard Swedish, the compound noun julgranskula (literally ‘Christmas tree ball’) is used to describe the ornaments.

But in the snowy north of Sweden, in Norrbotten and nearby areas, pumla is the more popular term. Around Piteå, many people use the alternative word polla, while pommel and póoll are also used in some specific areas.

These words have German roots and are related to German pummelig, meaning ‘plump’ or ‘dumpy’, and pummelchen, meaning ‘chubby’. When pumla was first used in northern Swedish dialects, it meant ’round thing’ or ‘ball’ generally but is now more commonly heard in the specifically Christmassy sense.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

Pumla was added into the official dictionary by the Swedish Academy in 2014 after lively campaigning from speakers of these variants of Swedish.

In fact, an organisation called Pumlans vänner (friends of Pumla) was set up back in 1988 to advocate for pumla‘s entry into the dictionary. The founder, Ove Friman from Luleå, said he was inspired to start the organisation when he asked his partner to get pumlor, who didn’t understand what he meant.

Example sentences

Vi har många pumlor i granen

We have lots of baubles on the Christmas tree

De här pumlorna ser mycket fina ut

These baubles look really pretty

Need a good Christmas gift idea?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.