Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Swedish Christmas

When you think about Christmas traditions, does Donald Duck come to mind? It does for Swedes. Donald Duck plays a big part in a Swedish Christmas celebration. He's called "Kalle Anka" in Swedish and watching his antics has become a Swedish television tradition every Julafton (Christmas eve) for more than 40 years. Why Donald Duck? Disney set up offices in all of the Scandinavian countries in the late 1930's/early 1940's, with Donald Duck becoming the most popular of the Disney characters in the Nordic region. He became so popular that he earned Scandinavian superstar status. A Donald Duck Christmas special began airing on Swedish television in 1959 and it has been a yuletide staple since.

Then there's Tomten. He's a gnome and his legend dates back to Norse paganism. Images of this mythical creature show him as a small, elderly man with a full beard. Wikipedia says he was dressed in the everyday clothing of a farmer, and in ancient times, Tomten was believed to be the "soul" of the first inhabitor of a farm. The legend goes that he would live under the floorboards of a house or barn and hand out gifts from his sack at Christmas. Many people now call Tomten the Swedish version of Santa Claus.

A Swedish Christmas would not be complete without a julbord (Christmas table). Last Christmas, I was treated to many Swedish treats, including pepparkakor (gingerbread biscuits) with glögg (Swedish mulled wine), served with raisins and almonds.

Non vegetarians enjoying a tradition Swedish Christmas dinner (the big meal takes place on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day) also typically feast on a Christmas ham, julskinka, and sometimes jellied pigs' feet. As a vegetarian, I'll just say tack, men nej tack to that (thanks, but no thanks)! Jansson's Temptation (a creamy potato casserole) can also be found at a typical Swedish julbord, a table that would not be complete without the Christmas risgrynsgröt, a rice porridge or pudding. It's a Swedish tradition to put a whole almond in the pudding. Swedes joke that the person who finds the nut will end up married the following year. Look out for that almond!

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