Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 23: Dan före dopparedagen

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Dan före dopparedan‘ – which translates somewhat curiously as the day before dipping day. Or, the day before Christmas.

I always thought that the name ‘dopparedan’ (dipping day) for Christmas Eve was somehow a reference to John the Baptist.

But I was wrong.

It actually comes from the old Swedish tradition of dipping and drenching bread in the stock juices in which the ham has cooked, and eating it. This traditional practice was called dopp i grytan and originated in agricultural communities. People dipped their bread as a little snack while they made final preparations for the celebrations later in the evening. Some people still do this today.

Because Christmas Eve was called ‘dopparedagen’, the 23rd Dec became known as ‘dan före dopparedagen’ – the day before the day of dipping bread.

Today’s ‘dan före dopparedan’ is more to do with making the final stressful arrangements for tomorrow. Final baking is done, last-minute Christmas presents are bought, a visit to Systembolaget (alcohol shop) is made.

And then, darkness and calmness descends over houses and homes all around the country. The evening before Christmas Eve is called ‘uppersittarkväll’ and Swedish families traditionally gather to wrap presents, play tv bingo, play games and write Christmas present rhymes. It is also the evening when traditionally people put up final decorations and dress the Christmas tree, although this happens earlier for many families.

Once everything is finalized, hopefully there is a moment of relaxation to be had with a glass of warm glögg and a pepparkaka.

And then, it’s time to head off to bed in anticipation for the big day tomorrow – dipping day!

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 22: Tomten

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Tomten‘ – who is the Swedish equivalent of Santa Claus.

Around the world, Santa is based on the mythology of St Nikolas – the Greek/Turkish patron saint who’s legend morphed in the USA from the Dutch immigrants’ Sinterklaas to the jolly figure who rewards good children that we see today.

The Swedish symbol of Tomten is partially based on St Niklas and the American depiction of Santa Claus. However, he is also based on a goat and a mythical sprite.

Let’s travel back to rural Sweden hundreds of years ago. Here, in the countryside, Tomten was a kind of sprite (hob, gnome, pixie) who lived on the farm and made sure that the farm had good luck. Tomten was described as a little bearded man, dressed in sackcloth and with a beard. He usually lived in the barn and was shy, mischievous, and irritable – and also vengeful. To keep Tomten happy, the farmer would leave out rice porridge for him to eat – a food that became known as ‘tomtegröt’ and that is still eaten for Christmas breakfast in Sweden today.

With industrialization in the late 1800’s, Sweden started to become inspired by the German St Nicholas, and in modern minds he merged with the rural sprite to become ‘jultomte’ – the gift-bearing sprite.

Popular Christmas cards by Swedish artist Jenny Nyström depicted this new version of Tomten in 1874 and strongly influenced the Swedish way of seeing jultomte. He was dressed in red hat, with a fluffy white beard. He is also seen to have many little helpers – known as ‘tomtenissar’ (a kind of elf).

And in 1881, a poem by Viktor Rydberg called Tomten strongly cemented his transformation and associated the figure with mid-winter and Christmas time.

Prior to this concept of Jultomte/Tomten, gifts were brought in Sweden by the Christmas goat.

In Sweden today, Tomten arrives on Christmas Eve, usually in the late afternoon. He delivers gifts to families, usually with the introduction of ‘Ho, Ho, Ho are there any good children here?’

Strangely, he always seems to arrive just when a member of the family (often dad) has gone out to the shops or gone for a walk.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 21: Julvärd

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Julvärd‘ which translates as Christmas host.

The term Christmas host is not referring to the religious bread that represents the body of Christ. Although you’d be forgiven for thinking so at this time of the year.

No, the Christmas host is a personality on tv who guides the viewers through the proceedings on Christmas Eve.

For 27 years the ‘julvärd’ was the same person – a man called Arne Weise – and he is, for many Swedes, eternally associated with Christmas Eve.

But since 2003, a new host is announced every year and it is considered a great honour to be given the role. This year the ‘julvärd’ is popular actor, comedian and singer Marianne Mörck.

While the role of ‘julvärd’ might seem trivial, it is actually very important. The Christmas host is present throughout the whole day and introduces the programs. He or she also talks about the value of Christmas and what it means. And not least, the ‘julvärd’ keeps lonely people company by inviting themselves into living rooms up and down the country.

This year’s host says in the trailer – ‘no matter who you are, where you live, or how old you are, I hope you will let me spend Christmas with you.’

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 20: Jullåt

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Jullåt‘ which translates as ‘Christmas song’. The ‘å’ letter in Swedish is pronounced something like ‘or’.

Obviously, the Christmas song is not unique to a Swedish Christmas. Like many other countries around the world, the playing of Christmas music starts in shops sometime in November and probably gives the shop assistants PTSD by the time Christmas has actually arrived.

The big international songs are popular in Sweden. According to the top list released by STIM (Sweden’s Music Copyright Protection Organisation), the most played international songs on Swedish radio are Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ by Mariah Carey and Band Aid’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’.

However, there is also a plethora of Christmas music in Swedish to torment us – classic, carols, hymns, psalms and pop. Many of the songs have predictable titles about Christmas time and lighting candles. The top three most-played Swedish songs are called ‘Tänd ett ljus’ (Light a candle), ‘Jul, jul, strålande jul’ (Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas) and ‘Mer jul’ (More Christmas).

But there are also some songs with rather strange titles. Here are just a few of them:

  • Hello (Christmas) goblins
  • The fox rushes over the ice
  • Our Christmas ham has escaped
  • Shine over sea and shore
  • Three gingerbread men
  • The Christmas goat
  • Staffan was a stable boy
  • Drunk again at Christmas
  • The gnomes’ Christmas night

If you’d like to listen to some Swedish Christmas music, check it out here

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 19: Julklappsrim

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Julklappsrim‘ which translates as ‘Christmas present rhyme’

If you receive a gift at Christmas time,

You’ll find in Sweden that it comes with a rhyme.

The packets are wrapped, the present to hide

And a poem describes all the contents inside.

You see, Swedes write poems on the label

Sometimes direct, sometimes a fable.

They sit in a workshop creating their verse,

It needs to be brief, but not at all terse.

The poem is read, the packet ripped open

And you see what you got, still leaves you hopin’

For a phone or a trip or a book about crime,

Wrapped up with a Swedish Christmas rhyme.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 18: Skumtomte

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Skumtomte‘ which translates as ‘Marshmallow Santa’.

January is a month when it is jam-packed at gyms up and down Sweden, usually due to the amount of food, snacks, and alcohol consumed over the Christmas and New Year period. The festive season is also one of the times of year when a lot of sugar and sweets are consumed.

One of the most popular sweets in yuletide Sweden is the ‘skumtomte’ – the marshmallow Santa. The traditional skumtomte is pink and white and strawberry flavoured. They have been manufactured since 1934, and every year over 194,000,000 are consumed in Sweden and Finland. It seems like it wouldn’t be Christmas without a jultomte.

Other sweet things that Swedes eat around Christmas are:

  • Ischoklad – ‘ice chocolate’ – chocolate with coconut fat in tiny cupcake forms
  • Ris a la Malta – a cold rice dessert with cream, vanilla and mandarines
  • Risgrynsgröt – rice porridge with sugar, cinnamon and milk
  • Knäck – butterscotch
  • Kola – toffee
  • Fudge – fudge
  • Marsipangris – marzipan pig
  • Polkagris – Candy cane
  • Chokladtryffel – chocolate truffle
  • Dadlar – dates
  • Fikon – figs
  • Pepparkaka – ginger biscuits
  • Aladdin and/or Paradis – popular boxes of chocolates

So, get eating – the gym can wait until January!

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 17: årets julklapp

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Årets julklapp‘ which translates as ‘Christmas present of the year.’

Every year, Sweden’s trade research institute nominates an item that is the ‘Christmas present of the year’. This item should have sold in large quantities and/or represent current trends in Swedish society. 

The first item to be granted this status was in 1988 and it was the baking machine. Since then, various items have been the CD player, VR glasses, the tablet, the spike mat, the book, the food home delivery service, the robot hoover, the woolly hat and the wok. Last year’s was the recycled item of clothing – a reflection of today’s environmental awareness.

So this year, what is it? 

Given the current state of the world, one might hope that it is a charitable contribution. But no it’s not. It’s the mobile phone storage box. A kind of parking lot for mobiles.

What does this say about Sweden today?

25 years ago the mobile phone was the present of the year.

This year, is the mobile phone storage box reflecting the stressful nature of today’s society in which people seem to feel that they are wasting too much time on their smart phones?

So Happy Christmas and a mobile-minimized New Year!