New place, new traditions.
This Christmas will be my first in Sweden, and while last year I got the chance to dip my toes in Swedish Christmas festivities when I visited my sister for 5 days, it wasn’t until now that I got the chance to really revel in it. I’ve experienced some of the Swedish Christmas traditions firsthand, while hearing about the others from my colleagues.
Some of these traditions are… strangely unique. Not in a bad way (I love strange things!), but it’s just a bit baffling for me when I first heard about them. So here are a few unique Swedish Christmas traditions that still leave me bemused.
Christmas is celebrated on December 24th
Julafton, or the Christmas Eve, is the time for the celebration (although usually it’s not limited only for the eve, but rather the entire day). Having meals together with family and opening presents are done on the 24th.
Since this means that both the 24th and 25th are a public holiday, I’m not complaining.
Drinks: Glögg and julmust all the way
Glögg (mulled wine) is nothing new, but I was surprised to find it incredibly sweet here. I usually like mulled wine, but glögg is just a bit too sweet for my liking.
Now, julmust is a novelty for me. It’s a sweet, non-alcoholic drink that people say tastes like rootbeer. I tried it and unfortunately, in my tongue, it tasted like a cough syrup I used to have when I was little. An insanely sweet cough syrup. Not my favorite, but don’t let my opinion deter you. Everyone else likes it, and it is said that julmust always outsells Coca-Cola during this festive period.
Julmust doesn’t need ads. Coca-Cola, on the other hand…
The rice pudding for Santa who comes from the front door
In Sweden, Santa Claus doesn’t look like the Santa that the rest of the world is familiar with. Jultomte, as it’s called here, looks more like a gnome. Jultomte doesn’t come sneakily through the chimney, but through the front door during the day. For this reason, rice pudding (rysgrynsgröts) is usually placed outside the front door for Jultomte (yes, it’s not cookies and milk).
A man in the family usually dresses up as Jultomte, although a colleague told me that some people usually cooperated with their neighbors to avoid the kids from getting suspicious. So you’ll dress up as Jultomte and play your role at your neighbor’s house, and they’ll do the same for you. Brilliant.
Watching Donald Duck at 3 pm on Christmas Day
Nothing is more baffling than this one. Donald Duck (or as they call it here, Kalle Anka) for Christmas?
But it’s a well-loved, long-standing tradition that’s still going strong today as it was decades ago.
Julbord literally means ‘Christmas table’, but ‘Christmas buffet’ probably translates best. Starting as early as November, you can see restaurants offer Julbord. Many restaurants have modern menus now, although Swedish traditional dishes still reign at Julbord. Some of my favorites:
- Christmas ham (julskinka)
- Meatballs (kötbullars)
- Mini sausages (prinskorv, literally means ‘prince sausage’)
- Janssons frestelse (means Janssons’ Temptation), the potato casseroles. I’ll take the one without sprats, please!
- Beetroot salad
- (risgrynsgröt) for dessert
You’ll also find pickled herring, liver pâté, different kinds of cheeses and salad, and loads of other dishes to choose from.
Word of caution: Many of these dishes are very salty. A friend says that’s why they drink a lot of snaps at the Christmas buffet.
If you want to share some unique Christmas traditions in the place where you live (or come from), please do so! I’d love to read those 🙂
From my family to yours, God Jul!
This post is the first installment of Stories from the West series, a project I’ve just started with Christa from Christa Bercerita. Once every month, we will write posts on the same topic, and these posts will be about stories from the places we live in now (Christa in the US, me in Sweden). We’ll share our experiences living as immigrants – all the ups and downs, the joys and struggles, and perhaps some personal musings. There will be a different topic for each month, so we hope you’ll follow along and share your experiences too if you’d like.
You can also read Christa’s post, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.