In Sweden the main part of Christmas is celebrated on December 24th, Christmas Eve (Julafton). This isn’t so different than alot of other countries since most countries have a lot of their Christmas on the day before and save Christmas for church festivities and being with family and friends.
In Sweden Christmas Even is spent usually with family and friends, along with eating a big meal “Julboard” which means Christmas table. It might seem more like a buffet in many parts of the world considering the accessories, and food are laid out and the guests sit at another table. The guests bring their plates and pick out what they want to eat and then you can go back as many times as you would like. The mean usually goes on for hours. I’m sure most of you have heard the term smorgasbord. It is the same thing but at Christmas time the food is extraordinary.
In Sweden traditional dishes are rice pudding, ham, Swedish meatballs “kottbullar” are prepared many different ways, sausages, pickled herring, various kinds of cheeses and rye bread and many other side items. It is said that if you hide an almond in the pudding the one that finds it will marry next.
The main course is the “Julskinka” or Christmas ham. You can purchase them finished now but traditionally they were fresh hams and they took days to prepare. It was cured in salt and then on the day before Christmas Eve it was boiled for several hours. On Christmas Eve it was then dried, painted with a coating of egg and mustard, sprinkled with bread crumbs and cooked at a high temperature for a short time. This gave the ham a mustard golden crust and a lovely taste mixed with the cured ham.
Another dish is “janssons frestelse” which is a creamy potato and anchovy casserole and is said to be named after Pelle Janzon, a food loving Swedish opera singer.
Swedish people also eat a lot of cabbage dishes and at Christmas you can find it mixed with a cranberry sauce type relish. It is called “Vitkals och Lingonsallas”.
The meal is reminiscent of other meals around the country with dishes resembling mashed potatoes, baked apples, and Swedish cheesecake. They also have a sweeter version of yeast rolls with added spices and raisins baked into the rolls.
In Sweden “snaps and glogg” means aquavit and hot mulled wine. This is a big part of the Swedish tradition. Some skip the aquavit, as those who are aware know that it is simply a form of vodka that is among the pleasures of the Swedish table. Hot mulled wine though is not so different than Americans hot apple cider with alcohol or the Germans gluhwein with is a warmed wine with spices for the holidays.
After dinner it is time for “Jultomten” or Santa. The family will put all the presents under the tree and Jultomten will hand them out. Jultomten brings with him a sack and says in a deep voice “Are there any good children here”. This is very similar to other European countries since in Germany if this happens he threatens to put the children in the sack and beat the sack if they are bad. Of course the premise is that children will not be bad for fear of not getting presents from Santa, St Nick, or Jultomten and instead getting nabbed into a sack and beaten. Old world charm yet effective I might add.
After all the presents are open and games or carols have been played. It is time for bed considering Christmas morning typically brings “Julottan” church. After church everyone settles in for spending time with friends and family and enjoying more food.
References for this article include Sweden.Se, Wikipedia, I Gourmet and Sweden’s Best.