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!

The relief of Swedish Advent


So it’s the first of Advent this weekend and this year it comes as a major relief for those of us in Stockholm.

You see at Advent, 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 years, there is already deepish snow at the first of Advent, but this year in Stockholm, there isn’t. So it is very, very, very dark. The collective advent decoration is a definite reprieve from this darkness as light is spread into these murky places.

The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin ‘adventus’ which means ‘arrival’ and is traditionally the start of the period where we wait for the arrival of nativity, or Christmas. Some religions also see it as waiting for the second coming of Christ. But in this secular society that is Sweden, the waiting is probably for the snow to come, the cold to hit, the water to freeze to ice and for winter to clasp its fingers firmly around us.

A Swedish Christmas tradition since 1960

In Sweden, since 1960, something has happened every day in the run up to Christmas. A tv series called ‘Julkalendern’ – Christmas calendar- is broadcast early in the mornings from Dec 1 to Dec 24. Sent in 15 minute episodes, it is a different story each year and often stars some of Sweden’s leading actors and comedians. It is very popular amongst children, and is a cozy seasonal tradition. After each episode, viewers can open the relevant door in their advent calendar, which accompanies the program. The stories can vary widely, but most usually there is a Christmas / winter theme and a moral message suited to the time of year.

‘Julkalendern’ sits deep in the souls and psyche of many Swedes. Most cherish fond childhood memories of getting up in the dark to watch an episode before heading off to school. In 1999, a competition was launched to identify the most popular ‘julkalender’ of all time. The winner was a spooky ghost story called ‘the mystery of Greveholm’. Closely behind were ‘Sune’s Christmas’, ‘The old woman who shrunk to the size of a teaspoon’ and ‘Magical times’.

This year, the story is called ‘Hunt for the crystal of time’ and is starring a very popular, recently-deceased Swedish actor as the obligatory evil bad guy. In the series, he plans to stop time the day before Christmas Eve and the only people who can stop him are three children who have to journey to the center of the universe to do so.

It’s all very exciting – what if they fail?! There will be no Christmas ever again!

We’d all better hope they succeed! In just 5 days, we’ll find out!!!!

‘Julkalendern’ can be watched on SvtPlay you’d like to catch up!