I could tell you all about my Christmas celebrations, but since I don’t really know most of the people reading this, I feel it best to leave out the personal anecdotes. I don’t want you all crowding on my doorstep next year when you hear how awesome the festivities are. No, this post will be dedicated to something far more important. Consider this a bit of cultural exchange, since I celebrate Christmas the Swedish way.
There are a few key elements in the Swedish celebrations; traditions that have never been broken and probably never will be. They’re ingrained in the social consciousness of the nation, and accepted without hesitation. No, this has nothing to do with religion or the Baby Jesus. What Christmas, or Jul, in Sweden really is about is Aladdin and Donald Duck.
It may sound like Swedish Christmas is sponsored by Disney, and you would be half right to think it. But this is more than about cartoons; it’s also about chocolate. Aladdin in this case doesn’t refer to the animated feature film; it is the name of a box of chocolates. Not just any box of chocolates, but the box of chocolates. It’s estimated that around Christmas time they sell as many boxes as there are households in this country.
This box of chocolates has been part of the festivities since 1939, and there is a certain etiquette involved when consuming said treats. There are two layers, and the rule is you don’t get to move on to the bottom one until you finish the first. That’s all fine, except for the cherry liquor pralines. Those suckers are always the last to go. A few years back there was a national vote on which Aladdin praline was the best (told you this was a big deal), and it was a huge surprise when that sad little cherry liquor chocolate took home the prize. There must be some closeted fans out there somewhere, but I have yet to encounter them.
Now to the second staple of a Swedish Christmas: Donald Duck. At three o’clock in the afternoon every Christmas eve, every family in Sweden will stop everything, and sit down to watch the same television programme, a Disney variety show technically called “From all of us, to all of you”. It doesn’t really have much to do with Donald Duck, but yet that is what it’s been colloquially dubbed, “Donald and his friends”. This show has been on since 1960, and while it changes slightly from year to year, it has more or less remained the same. It’s nothing special, a couple Disney shorts and clips from various features which honestly get kind of old after twenty-odd years of seeing them, but this program defines the holiday. There is even a specially chosen TV host who introduces the program and lights a candle, officially marking the start of Christmas.
While there is a degree of variation in different parts of the country, these two aspects remain the same. Step into a Swedish home at three o’clock next Christmas Eve and you’ll be ushered to the couch to watch an animated Santa get ready for Christmas, and offered a praline from the infamous Aladdin box – sit back and enjoy experiencing a small part of modern folk history, but watch out for that darn cherry liquor.