Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 10: Nobeldagen

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 ‘Nobeldagen‘ which translates as ‘Nobel Day’.

Nobel Day is not actually anything to do with Christmas. However, it is a traditional part of the lead up to Christmas. Every year on 10 December, since 1901, the Nobel Prizes are awarded. The date commemorates the death of Alfred Nobel in 1896.

With celebratory lectures, ceremonies and concerts, the day culminates with a banquet in the City Hall. The banquet lasts about 3 and a half hours and is televised. It is an extremely grand and formal occasion. Everything from the porcelain to the floral arrangements to the dresses, the entertainment and the menu are under scrutiny for the tv viewers.

The guests include not only the Nobel laureates and their families, but also Swedish royals and aristocrats, politicians, ministers, celebrities and other notable people. Even though there are 1300 guests, is virtually impossible for ordinary folk to get an invitation to the banquet. We have to enjoy it from afar, via the flat screens in our living rooms.

However exclusive the whole thing might be, it is still a welcome splash of glamour in the dark approach to Christmas.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 9: Julbelysning

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 the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julbelysning‘ which translates as ‘Christmas lights’.

Like others around the world, Sweden’s cities and towns install public Christmas lights this time of the year. These decorations illuminate the dark December days and are an important part of building up the Christmas cheer at an otherwise miserable time of the year.

Currently in Stockholm, one million lights have been lit and the city is populated with twinkling elk, reindeer, pine cones, angels, stars and fir trees. Gothenburg, on the other hand, has heavily reduced their Christmas decorations this year saving 2 million Swedish kronor in the process. In Malmö, 400,000 lights have been switched on and brighten up bridges, squares and streets.

Since 1996, on Skeppsbron in Stockholm, the city’s largest Christmas tree has been positioned. An enormous, impressive tree that towers over the buildings of the Old Town and spreads its light over the harbour. The tree in actual fact isn’t a real tree – it is constructed over a central pole with branches attached to it. In doing so, the tree is pleasingly symmetrical.

If you’d like to walk around and see the lights in Stockholm, the city has produced a map which you can find here.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 8: Ernst

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 ‘Ernst‘ which translates as, well… Ernst.

What on earth is an Ernst you might wonder? Well, the question should rather be ‘who’ is Ernst. Ernst Kirschsteiger is a person who, by many, is considered to be Mr Christmas in Sweden. He is a very popular interior designer who currently has a TV program called Ernst’s Christmas.

In his program he simply explodes festive spirit. He decorates and bakes and creates. He wallpapers and chisels and hammers. He sews and paints and he crafts. I would describe his design ethic as a nature-oriented retro scandi chic. He has a poetic, philosophical attitude to interior design coupled with practical solutions. This week he made, for example, Christmas decorations out of mandarin peel and wire and inspired us with a wreath of dried garden flowers, moss and brussel sprouts.

Some people find him very cheesy and goofy but he has definitely cornered the market on Christmas coziness. Many viewers see him as the idea of male perfection – a sensitive man who cooks, builds and decorates the home – all wrapped up in one sweet Christmas treat.

Since his tv debut in 2000, Ernst Kirschsteiger has grown to be a phenomena who only needs referring to by his first name, like Cher, Madonna and Prince. So popular is he that a book of his quotes and poetic wisdoms called ‘Ernstologi’ was released in 2006 and became a popular Christmas present that year.

If you want to witness the phenomena (in Swedish however), watch this YouTube clip and enjoy!

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 7: Julskinka

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 the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julskinka‘ which translates as ‘Christmas ham’ and is pronounced yule-hwinka (ish).

In the UK, I grew up eating roast turkey at Christmas. But in Sweden, it’s the ham that counts!

Swedes have been eating Christmas ham during the festive season since the 1800’s and many people consider it an obligatory part of the Christmas meal. Traditionally the cured ham is oven baked or boiled before it is coated in mustard and breadcrumbs and grill roasted. Here is a recipe.

The ham is often eaten with mustard and apple sauce. And the cold leftovers are eaten for days afterwards.

Many people these days don’t eat meat, and there are plenty of veggie alternatives to the julskinka from soya and Quorn hams to roasted cauliflower heads.

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 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!

Swedes and their alcohol – a Swedish odyssey?

When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually, less than many other countries.

However, it is at times like Christmas that the restricted opening times become more obvious. This year, the shops are closed for 4 days from yesterday at 3pm. Up and down the country, long queues were reported. I saw this with my own eyes, and had a weird recollection of old pictures from the Second World War or Soviet Russia. People seemed to be in a good mood while they waited, though it meant waiting for almost an hour outside some branches.

I guess it’s the price you pay for lack of forward planning. Anyway, I hope everybody got what they wanted and that they have a boozy, woozy, snoozy Christmas worth queuing for.