Nell Iris' Christmas

Christmasvaganza: Swedish Holiday traditions


Today it’s time to talk about the actual celebration here in Christmasvaganza, and how Swedes are spending the big day. And the most important thing of all: the food! 🙂

First of all: in Sweden our main celebration is on Christmas Eve, that’s when we exchange gifts, stuff our faces, and do all the tradition-y stuff. Christmas Day is more of a party day, when people who returned to their old hometowns to hang with family, get together with old friends, go out, and have a drink…or ten. And then we spend Boxing Day hungover, or fighting with other crazy shoppers in something called Mellandagsrea which is a sale that takes place in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

And of course I’m painting the picture with very broad brushstrokes here, but I trust that you understand that 🙂

So…the food. (Image is from Pixabay. I wanted to use one of my own, but there’s always people in my Christmas photos, and I’m not sure my mom wants to be on the blog, so let’s go with this one.)


Swedes eat a buffet style meal on Christmas with lots and lots of cold and hot dishes. No turkey for us. Our pièce de résistance is ham. The ham can be either boiled or baked before it’s glazed, and then it’s served cold. While I prefer baked, many don’t. As a matter of fact, if you boil the ham, you can use the cooking broth to dip rye bread into it. It’s such a tradition, we’ve even given Christmas Eve another name based on it: Dopparedagen which literally means The Day of Dipping, which comes from the dipping of the bread in the broth.

Except for ham, we also eat pickled herring in many different flavors, gravlax, smoked salmon, beetroot salad, eggs, cheeses, and cold cuts. The hot dishes are meatballs (not in any sauce, just the way they are), pork sausages, pork ribs (lots of pork in Sweden for Christmas), Janssons frestelse (which is like a casserole made from julienned potatoes, onion and, anchovies), and boiled potatoes.

These are the basics, but there’s lots of more stuff. Lutfisk for example, which is codfish treated with lye and served with a white sauce. It’s absolutely disgusting, and we don’t eat it in my family, but it’s an old dish that’s still quite common. Pigs trotters (yuck!) and different kinds of patés are also very common.

My personal favorite is the meatballs my dad makes from elk meat. I also love baked ham, and the version of Janssons Frestelse my dad makes with ham instead of anchovies (because nobody in the family, besides Mom, like anchovies). And sometimes if we’re really lucky and my uncle has had hunting luck and been generous, we get smoked heart of elk. It’s soooo tender and yummy.

p1050182_588834562a6b2275f19e933cWith the food, we drink julmust, beer, or water (but not Coca Cola, are you crazy??), and also snaps. Snaps is a shot of strong, spiced alcohol taken with food. You drink them in small glasses like the ones you can see on the picture (and this IS from my family celebration). My favorite kind of snaps is spiced with dill, and the other day my dad sent a picture of it to show he’s stocked up for my arrival 😀

Before you drink the snaps, you have to sing a little drinking song. We have many, many drinking songs, but the most famous one is called Helan Går. (Click here to hear it sung by our national treasures ABBA). “Helan” is the name of the first snaps you drink, the name of the second snaps is called “Halvan” (yes, we name the drinks!) and the song’s lyrics is about how if you don’t drink Helan you won’t get to drink Halvan. (No, I’m not kidding 🙂 )

For dessert we eat rice pudding or lots and lots of Christmas candy, homemade or store bought (mostly chocolate). And coffee. Always coffee, Swedes drink a lot of it. The only ones drinking more coffee than Swedes in the entire world are people from Finland.

Other notable traditions is the Christmas presents of course, but we don’t really have stockings. Instead, an uncle or cousin sneaks out (official excuse: he needs to go buy the paper), dresses up as Santa, knocks on the door, and distributes the gifts to terrified kids. When the kids grow older we just stick the presents under the tree.

We watch television, too. Disney’s From All of Us to All of You is shown every Christmas Eve at 3PM and every year something like 3,5-4 million people (out of a population of 10 million) watch it. I know every line by heart. But my favorite Christmas program is this:


Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons julafton (The story of Karl-Bertil Jonsson’s Christmas Eve). It’s an animated short movie based on a book written by (now deceased) Swedish author, actor and film director Tage Danielsson. It’s basically a Robin Hood type of story and how the young boy Karl-Bertil steals from the rich and gives to the poor. My mom hates the movie, but I love it.

This is what I’m doing on Sunday at my parent’s house. My brother and his family will attend too, and I really, really look forward to it.

God Jul! (=Merry Christmas)

6 thoughts on “Christmasvaganza: Swedish Holiday traditions”

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