WtS Advent Calender Dec 6: Julmarknad

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julmarknad‘ which translates as ‘Christmas Market’

A popular recurring event during the weeks leading up to Christmas in Sweden is the Julmarknad – the Christmas Market.

Christmas markets are a very cosy affair. Here you can walk around and enjoy the smell of glögg and roasted chestnuts. You can listen to the sound of Christmas carols echoing through the air. You can bathe in the lights and decorations strewn around the marketplace. And you can see traditional handicrafts and locally produced goods on sale, such as scarves, hats, festive food and decorations. If you’re lucky, snow is tumbling down and crunching under foot.

Christmas markets have been around in Sweden since the 1800’s and take place up and down the country on town squares, in gardens, in museums, farms, barns, greenhouses, castles, garden centers and stately homes.

For a list of some recommended markets, check here.

WtS Advent Calendar Dec 5: Julmust

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julmust‘ which is a fizzy Christmas beverage.

I would venture to say every Swede likes to drink at least one glass of julmust at Christmas. However, according to statistics it is even more! Apparently Swedes drink an average of 5 litres per person of the fizzy drink during December. The alcohol-free soft drink is bought in bottles at the supermarket and comes in different sizes, fully sugared and also in a diet form.

Said to include over 30 ingredients, its actual recipe is top secret, only known to three people. Despite all the cloak and dagger stuff, the connoisseur can detect the flavour of hops and malt. The taste is reminiscent of the old-fashioned ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ drink for those of you that understand that British reference.

Julmust was invented by a teetotaler and sales began in 1910 as an alternative to ale and port. Although intended to be alcohol-free, the drink is often blended into Christmassy cocktails or mixed with porter or stout and other ingredients to create a Christmas drink called Mumma.

I have even drunk it mixed with red wine – a so called Kalimusto. I recommend trying the experience – although it actually is a fairly unpleasant one!

WtS Advent Calendar Dec 4: Julkalendern

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julkalendern‘ which translates as ‘Christmas Calendar’

Julkalendern is a television series broadcast on Swedish TV every day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. It is a popular and heavily-anticipated program that children and adults traditionally watch at 7.15 in the morning (or on line). Typically each episode is 15 minutes long, and every year there is a new story.

The first Julkalendern was broadcast in 1960 and was called ‘Titteliture’. In 2016, a competition was held to vote for the all-time favourite Julkalendern. It was won by a series called ‘Sune’s Christmas’ (1991) followed by ‘The Mystery at Greveholm’ (1996), ‘Time of the Trolls’ (1979) and ‘The old woman who shrunk to the size of a teaspoon’ (1967).

This year, the series is called ‘Panic in Santa’s workshop’ and stars many popular Swedish actors. And according to the latest statistics, it has already broken the viewing records of previous years. It has caused some controversy, which is not unusual, with parents complaining about the suitability of the content for children.

But controversy and complaints aside, Julkalendern endures as a self-evident and undeniable part of the Swedish lead up to Christmas.

See the program here.

WtS Advent Calendar Dec 3: Gävlebocken

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Gävlebocken‘ which translates as ‘The Gävle Goat’.

This strange tradition takes place in the Swedish town of Gävle. Every year, a giant handcrafted straw goat is built on the town’s Castle Square. And almost every year, it gets burned to the ground by a pyromaniac. One year, it was even burned down before its inauguration. Consequently, the local authority have increased security and have managed to prevent the burning for the last three years.

The symbol of the goat is a traditional Christmas decoration in Sweden, called a ‘julbock’ – a Christmas goat. Usually made of straw, a goat is placed under the Christmas tree or small goats are hung from the branches. The symbol of the goat has ancestry in Scandinavia far back in Nordic mythology and, up to the 1800’s, it was the goat who brought presents during the festive season. A kind of precursor to Santa Claus.

So although the Christmas goat has endured for centuries, it remains to be seen if the Gävle goat survives until the New Year.

WtS Advent Calender Dec 2 – Pepparkaka

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar

Every day leading up to Christmas, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘pepparkaka‘, which translates as gingerbread.

Other than glögg, nothing else is more synonymous with the Swedish festive season than pepparkaka (gingerbread). The Swedish version of gingerbread comes in the form of thin crispy biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and cloves. Formed in different shapes such as hearts, trees, and stars, gingerbread is eaten plain or decorated with icing. Many people buy squeezy blue cheese in a tube and squirt it onto the biscuit before consumption. Some people build gingerbread houses as part of their Christmas decorations.

Making your own pepparkaka is a cosy a Christmas tradition – here is a typical recipe. However, most people buy their gingerbread ready-made.

Pepparkaka has been associated with Christmas in Sweden since the 1800’s but was eaten much earlier than that. The first documented record of pepparkaka in Sweden is from 1335 for a royal wedding. In a recipe from the 1400’s, gingerbread included pepper, which could be why it has the name pepparkaka. But nobody is really sure.

Ever wondered why Swedish people are so nice? Well, the answer lies in an old myth – apparently the very eating of pepparkaka is what makes you nice.

WtS Advent Calendar Dec 1 – Glögg

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar

Every day leading up to Christmas, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season. Today’s word is the fantastic-to-say ‘glögg‘. (Pronounced ‘glugg’)

Glögg is festive Swedish mulled wine: heated wine, most commonly red, with spices. It is drunk together with almonds and raisins added in. And it is delicious! Glögg is very popular, having been drunk in Sweden around Christmas since the 1890’s. However, the earliest record of drinking heated wine dates back to the 1500’s. The word glögg comes from the Old Swedish word ‘glödg’, and the verb ‘glögda’ – to heat up. This, in turn, has its origins in the verb glöder (to glow).

Some make their own glögg, here is a typical recipe.

But most people buy their glögg ready-made in a bottle. In addition to the traditional flavours, each year a new flavour of the nectar is released and there’s always a debate regarding its success. This year’s glögg (2019) is called Aloha and is an infusion of passion fruit, hibiscus, coconut and coffee. Yummy!

And so it is Advent – Swedish style

 

Today, the first of Advent, the light shines strong in the darkness. Swedes decorate their houses, apartments and windows with lights. From ceilings, illuminated stars are hung. On window ledges, electric advent candles are placed. On tables, four candles are positioned and one is lit every Sunday up until Christmas. Small candles, often red, are dotted about the home. Some people change curtains and populate their homes with small gnomes and flowers.

Since November has been a rainy month, the collective advent decoration is a definite reprieve from the darkness as light is spread into these murky places.

This weekend is also the starting signal for the Swedish ‘glöggfest’. People go to each other’s homes and drink ‘glögg’ (mulled wine), eat gingerbread and saffron buns. It a very cosy time of year. Because the word ‘advent’ means ‘arrival’, it does actually seem appropriate at Advent to open up your home and wait for your guests to arrive.