Erik Karlsson: A Swedish Christmas
Although now living in the UK, and working from our Manchester Headquarters, Erik Karlsson of our Fire Protection team hails from Sweden. To get in the festive spirit, Erik gave us the full run-down of what a Swedish Christmas typically entails!
Find out about the Swedish Christmas countdown and the traditions that must be upheld, how no Christmas meal is complete without Gravlax, and the differences he found when moving over to the UK for the first time!
What are the Christmas traditions like in Sweden?
There are a few things going on in December that you must adhere to in order to get into full Christmas spirit:
Pretty much every household will follow the Advent Calendar 24 episode TV series run on the BBC 1 equivalent SVT 1 channel. This comes with a physical Julkalender with 24 slots to open to leading up to Christmas. For those who don’t like to watch TV, there is a radio version as well. There is no chocolate in the calendar.
For the first Sunday in December you bring out the advent candle holder which holds 4 candles. Every Sunday leading up to Christmas you light another candle. The proper way to do it is to also read a poem and drink Glögg (mulled wine) when lighting the candles. The mulled wine is different from what you can find here in the UK and it HAS to be of the brand BLOSSA.
You must bake gingerbread biscuits at some point during December. The flavour is again quite different to what you get in the UK, with the recipe calling for much more cloves than ginger. These are made in various shapes such as Christmas trees, foxes, moose, angels, men, women and above all – hearts. Some also like to build gingerbread houses and you can enter local and national competitions.
On December 13th it is the Lucia Day where we for some unknown reason celebrate the Italian Saint of Lucia. Nurseries, schools, churches, care homes and some workplaces will organise a choir consisting of the odd collection of “the Lucia” and a handful of “maids”, “star boys”, “gingerbread men” and “Tomtenissar” (best described as a mixture of Santa and gnome) who perform a collection of carols and poems. This is a bit like a nativity in the UK. This is the day you also start eating Lussekatter which I suppose means Lucia Cats and is a saffron spiced bun.
After December 13th there should be smooth sailing up until December 23rd which is the day you should bring the Christmas Tree indoors and decorate it. As there is quite a lot of forest in Sweden it is not uncommon to cut your own tree unless you live in the major cities.
Swedes celebrate Christmas on December 24th. All families will do it slightly different but a few things need to be ticked off:
- Kalle Anka at 3 pm. The SVT1 channel does a re-run of Donald Duck with friends celebrating Christmas from the 60ies for about 1 hour. Why? How dare you question traditions?! In 2020 there were 4 519 000 viewers watching it so a good 40%+ of Swedes will tune in. They can’t all be wrong?
- Julbord which is the Christmas feast and which tends to start after Kalle Anka.
- Jultomten, Santa Claus. Comes in the evening with a bag of Julklappar (presents) and hands them out to all children, old and young, who have been kind during the year. If the real Santa is busy, you can always ask a neighbour to step in.
What were your first thoughts on UK Xmas?
For better or worse there seem to be fewer traditions here in the UK surrounding Christmas so you can get by with less preparation without risking resembling the Grinch, which is nice. I thought it was fantastic to go for a walk in 10-15 degrees and sunshine the first time I celebrated it here (beginner’s luck?) as opposed to the more common -5 to -10 degrees in Stockholm.
What is the traditional Swedish xmas meal/food?
Julbord, which takes the form of a smörgåsbord with any pickled food you can ever dream of (or not). Lots of different sorts of herring are served, with “Christmas spices” to separate it from Easter and Midsummer, and… Meat of choice is ham and meatballs and no Julbord is complete without Gravlax which is salmon served raw with dill. If you are “lucky”, Lutfisk is served which is a dried preserved white fish that has been soaked in water for about a week leading up to Christmas. It has a wonderful jelly-like consistency and equally wonderful taste. A special bread with a lot of spices in it is baked (Vörtbröd) and it is had with some Christmas edition cheese. The Julmust soft drink will also be found on all Julbord. The best I can describe it is a spiced version of Coca Cola and it is only available for purchase around Christmas. The spirit of choice tends to be Julakvavit which the Danes in Aalborg excel at making.