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God Jul – Happy Swedish Christmas

swedish christmas

How Swedes celebrate a typical Swedish Christmas

Ever wondered how you celebrate Swedish Christmas? Swedes celebrate Christmas (jul) on Christmas Eve (julafton). This is the day when Swedes eat their Christmas food and exchange presents. 

Swedish Christmas food

Traditional Swedish Christmas food is usually a large buffet (julbord). Some people have their julbord at lunchtime or early afternoon. Others have theirs in the evening. It’s also popular to go out to restaurants that serve julbord throughout December. 

Must have foods are: 

  • sill (pickled herring, many varieties)
  • potatis
  • julskinka (Christmas ham, boiled or baked with a mustard and breadcrumb glaze)
  • köttbullar (meatballs)
  • prinskorvar (mini sausages)
  • gravad lax (cured salmon)
  • Janssons Frestelse (creamy potato and fish gratain)
  • rödkål (braised red cabbage)
  • rotmos (mashed root vegetables
  • rödbetssallad (beetroot salad)
  • knäckebröd (crisp bread)
  • julost (Edam cheese)


Jultomten – Santa

In Swedish families, jultomten actually turns up in person late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Usually it’s the father of the house, or perhaps a neighbour, who dresses up as Santa. He knocks on the door, and when the children open, he asks: Finns det några snälla barn här? (Are there any kind/good children here?) He then delivers some of the Christmas gifts (julklappar) directly to the children. The rest of the gifts can be found under the Christmas tree. 


Other interesting Swedish festive traditions

If you want to take part in some of the more weird Swedish festive traditions, do the following:


Watch Kalle Anka on TV

1. At 3pm on Christmas Eve, watch all of the clips in this playlist (if you’re in Sweden, you can watch it on TV). The medley is called Kalle Ankas och hans vänner önskar god jul, and it has been part of the traditional Christmas broadcasting every year since 1959. Two special people that many Swedes associate with this is Arne Weise (who was the host from 1972 to 2002) and Bengt Feldreich (who is the narrator). Sadly, they both passed away in 2019, less than a month apart. 🙁 


Watch Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve

2. On New Year’s Eve in the evening at some point, make sure to watch Grevinnan och Betjänten – a short British comedy sketch from 1963. This sketch is according to Guinness Book of World Records the most annually repeated TV-programme in the world. Interestingly, even though it is hugely popular in many countries around the world, it’s virtually unknown in United Kingdom. 


Watch Ivanhoe on New Year’s Day

3. On New Year’s Day in the afternoon, watch the film Ivanhoe from 1982 (if you’re in Sweden, it will be on TV). This film has been shown every New Year’s Day in Sweden since 1982. 


BONUS POINTS if you eat some sill, drink a shot of snaps and sing the traditional song Helan Går. 🙂 

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Dr Anneli Beronius Haake

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Anneli Beronius Haake

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