Stories from the north
Celebrating Christmas in Sweden
Every country has its own way to celebrate Christmas, and Sweden is no exception. And even though every family has their own traditions, some things are exactly the same in almost every household on the 24th of December.
The Christmas food buffet
The Christmas food buffet can almost be described as a museum of Swedish culinary history. The traditional buffet is filled with foods and dishes only eaten on Christmas. Some culinary historians mean that the Christmas buffet is a way to keep connected to our past and our ancestors: things that young people eat today could be the same thing and the same recipe that family members ate hundreds of years ago.
The oldest food on the buffet today is ”lutfisk”. Lutfisk is a dried fish, bleached in birch ashes until white, hard and thin. In order to eat it, the fish must be soaked in clear water for a week. It’s eaten with green peas, butter and white hollandaise sauce. The old recipes though, dated back as far as to the 1400’s, also include almonds and raisins.
One of the most popular dishes today is the Christmas ham. It was introduced in the end of the 1800’s, and is traditionally covered with a crispy mustard crust. It’s eaten chilled, sliced into thin pieces, together with a strong Swedish mustard on the side.Another mandatory part of the buffet is pickled herring and salmon. The pickled herring can vary in many different flavors, and the salmon is served either warm smoked, cold smoked or rimmed.
Kalle Anka – Donald Duck and his friends
It’s said that Sweden has two collective times in a year: the bell for New Years Eve – and the time for Kalle Anka on TV. Every Christmas Eve at 15:00, the public channel airs a Christmas show called ”Kalle och hans vänner”. It’s a cartoon show – same every year – showing small stories of Donald Duck and his friends, old Disney classics and some new glimpses of modern films. The show has been aired since the 60’s in Sweden and brings everyone together – no matter how old you are!
Santa Claus and presents
Every child awaits the evening. That’s when Santa Claus – or ”tomten” in Swedish – arrives in the dark to deliver presents. The classic tomte has red clothing, a big white beard, a top hat and big black boots. He’s big and round, and speaks with a dark (but kind) voice and brings the presents in a big fabric bag.
Tomten is often played by someone in the family – maybe a dad or a grandad, but a mother dressed up with pillows for roundness is just as perfect! The traditional get-away-phrase is ”I need to go and get the newspaper”, which would be a legit reason for accidentally disappearing when Tomten arrives.
When Tomten enters the room he asks ”Finns det några snälla barn här?” which means ”Are there any kind children here?”. The phrase refers to the fact that you only get presents if you’ve been kind throughout the year. Maybe the same should go for adults?
Making your own traditions
One beautiful thing about Christmas is about making your own traditions. Every family has their own little things they love – some eat before Kalle Anka, some eat after. Some open a few presents in the morning, and others wait until late in the evening. Some have a very special herring recipe or eggnog drink, while others can’t have Christmas without a crackling fire.
That’s one of the most important things about Swedish Christmas today: sticking to the things you love, and making up your own traditions as celebration goes on – year after year.