I wrote in my entry two days ago that I’d write about how the Swedes (the typical ones that I know of) celebrate christmas but I’ve had too much “snaps” (that scandinavian liquor distilled to about 40% ethanol) circulating in my body that the only thing I could do last night (24th) after the christmas celebration (right until this morning) was blink my eyes.
First of all, I should perhaps inform my non-swedish readers that the highlight of Christmas in Sweden is celebrated on the afternoon of the 24th, that is called the Christmas Eve (Julafton).
Coming from a country where the highlight of Christmas is when the clock strikes 12 midnight on the 24th, that is the actual start of the 25th, I found the Swedish version much kinder to the kids, as they don’t need to stay up that late to partake the Christmas food and enjoy the night feast.
Here in Sweden, Christmas feast invariably starts around one or two o’clock in the afternoon. As a warm up, a warm cup of “glögg”, with some raisins and freshly crushed almonds in it, is served as an apéritif. Glögg is a Swedish drink, flavoured with rich aroma of spices which can be made with or without alcohol. Gingerbread is also served together with this drink.
After the “glögg” is consumed, everyone sits around a relatively well-dressed dinner table, with candle lights and some ornamental plants, usually hyacinths in full bloom which emanates a very sweet scent. Since the typical Swedish menu at Christmas is a three-course meal, including the dessert, you will find in front of you a number of plates, utensils and glasses of varying sizes. You should be wary of that small snaps glass not to be left empty lest you find yourself missing in action in the next round of singing which accompanies the drinking of the snaps.
The whole dining set-up looks pretty delicate and elegant but there’s really nothing fancy at all with the traditional Swedish food on the chrismas table. For starters, small portions of the following are served: pickled herring (comes in many different flavours, my fave is the one in onion and pepper), egg with caviar (not that delicatess russian caviar but the processed caviar in what look like toothpaste tubes), beetroot salad, slices of smoked salmon, ham, Edam cheese (queso de bola) and dark bread specially baked in port beer. Although these food items are indeed very delectable, I’m very careful not to fill up myself with them prior to the heavier main course.
Now the main course consists of Janssonsfrestelse (literally, Temptation of Jansson, made up of layers of potato and onion in creme, with bits of conserved anchovies, topped with bread crumbs and baked in the oven), and fried meatballs and small sausages. It is quiet a hearty albeit rather oily meal, guaranteed to clog your arteries.
As for the drinks, aside from the already mentioned snaps, Swedes also have this traditional beverage called Julmust, it is basically a softdrink with a weird taste. The Swedes say that it is a must to drink Julmust during Christmas. Haha. Incidentally, the very same drink is also served in Sweden during the Easter and is called then “påskmust”. Basically the same shit, just different occasions. Anyways, they also have some especially brewed beer for christmas (julöl), but in the christmas feasts I’ve been, any beer or wine of your preference is ok.
When the main dish is finished, a dessert of rice porridge boiled in milk flavoured with cinnamon sticks is served together with warm fruit purée or berry jam.
As the meal progresses, everyone gets a bit fidgety about the time. The reason is that at exactly three o’clock, an animated cartoons show, “Donald Duck and His Friends Wishes Merry Christmas” is broadcasted on the state-owned TV channel. Of all the Swedish traditions, this I would say is the weirdest I’ve ever experienced. All the members of the family gather around the TV, and watch small clips of Walt Disney cartoons. Apparently, this started in 1959 from the original american TV series called “The Wonderful World of Disney” with the title, “From All of Us to All of You.” Despite the weirdness factor, it can be a nice way to relax after the heavy meal. Close to half of Sweden’s 9 million inhabitants reportedly tune in to this every christmas eve!
After an hour of singing with Santa Claus in his workshop, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Mowgli, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Ferdinand the Bull, etc, the most awaited part of the christmas celebration finally arrives, which is the dealing out of the gifts from under the christmas tree. If there are kids, someone puts on a Santa Claus mask and is the one in charge of taking the gifts from under the tree, and distribute it out one by one. The recipient then opens the gift in front of everyone. It is a bit funny to see the receiver trying hard to hide that feeling of disappointment when he or she doesn’t really like the gift. It is equally funny to see how everyone tries to fake their reactions when someone shows up a gift that doesn’t really deserve that “ooohh, wow!” reaction. After all the gifts have been opened, some board games are played or maybe everyone does a short walk outside for some fresh air. There’s no definite end to the Swedish christmas celebration. It really depends how extended the family is or whether there are invited guests.
To sum up, to a non-believer like me, Swedish Christmas just like the many Christmasses I grew up with back home leaves a feeling of emptiness very much akin to that empty feeling after masturbating to a porn film. It is like what’s the fuckin’ point? But just like that pleasant wanking feeling, I kind of look forward to the next year’s christmas season again, anyway.
Honestly, for me christmas is just that day when I eat, drink and spend more than I use to. I don’t become extra nice just because it is christmas. I am proud to say that I maintain that same level of niceness throughout the year. I think it is just logical to feel this way once you realized that there really is no Santa Claus who is making this annual “who” list of naughty and nice people.
Anywho, to end this piece on a nice note, I just wish everyone to enjoy your remaining holidays and have a prosperous new year to come!