Why the hottest Swedish Christmas gift of 2021 is not actually a thing at all

After more than eighteen months of social distancing, what Swedes really, really want for Christmas is simply the chance to experience things with a crowd of others.

Why the hottest Swedish Christmas gift of 2021 is not actually a thing at all
This year's årets julklapp, or Present of the Year, is tickets to events such as concerts or sporting events. Photo: Pontus Lundahl / TT
Or at least, that’s the claim of the retail organisation HUI Research, which every year reveals Sweden’s årets julklapp (Christmas present of the year).
The company’s highly-anticipated Christmas prediction very often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the gadget selected selling like crazy in the days running up to Christmas. 
Last year’s winner was an outdoor camping stove, and previous winners have included an electronic pet (1997), a woolly hat (2003), a robot vacuum cleaner (2015), and in 2019, the much-ridiculed mobillåda – a box for storing your mobile phone during social events to discourage mindless scrolling and encourage social interaction.
But this year, there is no gadget at all. 

One of the criteria for the Christmas gift of the year is that it must represent the times in which we live, and according to Emma Hernell, HUI Research’s chief executive, what people in Sweden are now craving is public events, leading the company to choose “tickets to an event”, as this year’s gift.  

“It’s become so obvious during this period that something we’ve really missed during the pandemic has been being able to experience things together with other people. That’s why we want to highlight event tickets: be that culture, concerts, theatre or sporting events,” she told Sweden’s TT newswire. 

“We see that there is a pent-up need for this: demand is very high, tickets are sold out, and audience records are bring broken. And this is being met by a sharply increased supply.” 

This is not the first time that the institute has selected an experience as the year’s top gift. In 2008, it nominated “an experience”, pointing to the then-growing idea of packaging experiences such as wine-tasting events, balloon adventures, spa treatments, and massages. That was focused more on personal experiences, whereas this year’s gift is more about what people have not been able to do during the pandemic. 

The pandemic is not the only reason why tickets to events are currently a popular gift, however, as the shift towards experiences has been developing for some time.

“If you look a bit more long-term, you see that we are devoting an ever-greater portion of our disposable incomes towards culture and recreation,” Hernell said in the press release. “We see people value this more and more, and this is both a short-term corona-effect, but also a very exciting long-term trend.” 

She said that Christmas spending on tickets to big events and gatherings did not necessarily mean retailers of physical goods would lose out.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Will Sweden introduce Covid vaccine passes?

Indeed, she said that the reopening of events was already having a knock-on effect on businesses such as clothes retailers and hairdressers, who are experiencing rising sales as people once again feel the need to dress up. 

However, 2021’s Christmas present of the year has also received criticism. In an interview with public broadcaster SVT, Joakim Dillner, professor in infectious disease epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute criticised the timing of the decision.

“There are large outbreaks of Covid-19 in the world right now, so the risk for a new wave is absolutely something we should be thinking about in Sweden, too” Dillner told SVT.

When asked by SVT when he thought it would be okay to attend events again, Dillner replied that “risk won’t be low enough until we start moving towards spring or summer”.

So be prepared – you might be holding on to those event tickets for a few months yet.

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