My Christmas in Sweden… Full & Fat. Bookmark and Share

Saturday, December 26, 2009

So, it’s ‘boxing day’. And I feel fuller than a very full thing after the last two days of over-eating.

On Christmas Eve, the day the Swedes traditionally celebrate Christmas, I ate for a marathon of session spread over about 4 hours in the evening. This was following a largish lunch earlier in the day, where we ate Swedish Christmas Ham with potatoes, veg, and a rich creamy mustard sauce.

I’ve been asked a few times by friends ‘so what do they eat at Christmas’. So here’s a quick run down.

First the starter, prawns and sliced boiled egg on toast (well it was a little more than this, but that’s the basics)… Followed by a trip to the buffet table to get the cold main course. This was a huuuge and I mean huge selection of cold meats, fish, salad, and mayonnaise mixes. Included in the fish was the ‘dreaded’ smoked eel. Which, for those of you who haven’t heard me talk about this before, is something I tried a couple of years ago and it is still the worst thing I’ve ever tasted or put in my mouth ever. Completely vile. Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the way it was cooked, as all the other Swedes were enjoying tucking in to it. But this year, I was prepared, and decided to avoid it like the plague! I also avoided the various herring dishes, which I still cannot get my pallet to distinguish from something that should be fed to cats. The rest of the fish dishes were nice though, like the salmon, which was to die for. Yum.

Following that course, another trip to the buffet table for the warm main course. Yes, two main courses for the Swedish Christmas meal. This consisted of Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, various red and brown cabbages, sausages, and lots of other items which I couldn’t squeeze in! After eating this course I was completely and utterly stuffed. But there was much more to come…

Following a short interval, the Ris à la Malta is served. I’m not sure why this is a Christmas favourite on the Swedish Christmas table, but it seems to be. If you don’t know what it is, then I believe it’s basically cold rice pudding with some kind of fruit jelly in the middle. Sorry to any Swedes who read this and think I’ve got it wrong, but, that’s what it tastes and looks like, so I’m hoping I’m about right.

After this course I’m now so full I could burst. But that was not the end.

If my memory serves correct at this point, we took a pause here. I could be wrong, but I think no more food was brought out after this until we had finished playing the ‘Christmas present game’. This is basically a cute tradition, which I don’t think it particularly Swedish, but is something the family here have done for about 8 years. Instead of going crazy buying tonnes of (potentially unwanted) gifts for all the extended members of the family and friends, just one present is purchased by each person. A little like ‘secret santa’ except you are not buying for any particular person, it’s just a general gift for anyone. You cannot spend more than 50 krona, which is about £4.50. After the food, the table is cleared and everyone sits round the table as all the gifts are placed in the centre. No one knows who brought one and all the gifts are wrapped so you cannot see what they are. Two dice are thrown by each person in turn and if you throw a double, you get to take a gift from the centre of the table. Once all the presents are gone (some people will have none, others several) then an ex timer is randomly set and the game continues until the bell goes. People continue to shake the dice to try and get a double, and should you get one, you get to take a gift from someone else at the table! It can easily happen that before the clock was set you had 3 or 4 gifts, but then you end up with none as the game continues. The tension in the air is quite funny as you sit with your few gifts hoping for the timer to ping before anyone else takes a gift from you.

Once the bell pings, the game ends, and everyone (who has a gift) opens their packages to see what’s inside.

Now some people might read this and think, oh gosh, how tight. Only one gift for £4.50. But, one thing for sure, it means that everyone can sit and enjoy Christmas without the stress of thinking and worrying what to buy, who for, how much, and doing all the shopping and wrapping. And potentially getting into debt unnecessarily for a bunch of items that people maybe could have done quite happily without, and will more than likely forget that it was you who bought it them after a year or so.

I think it’s a really great idea, and one I certainly think has it’s merits. (ps – if there are young kids, they still get their gifts at home, so don’t feel sorry for them!).

Okay, back to food. It’s perhaps 30 minutes to an hour since we late ate. So out comes the coffee and cakes of which you are expected to squeeze in at least one if not more pieces of lovely cake. Which I did. 😀

After that, yep there’s more, out come the chocolates, sweets, and other small bits. At this point, after a couple of those, I had to decline anything else because I thought my stomach might actually pop.

Oh and before I forget. As is traditional at the Swedish table, ‘snapps’ is served and drunk at 10 or 15 minutes intervals throughout the dining experience. This is served in small shot glasses, neat, and drank together like you would drink after a toast. Rather than just having one ‘toast and cheers’ session like the English do, the Swedes do it repeatedly throughout the meal. But, there’s not that much to toast, so, instead they sing, yep, sing. A short carol or Christmas related verse is sung by everyone for 10 or 15 seconds, then you say ‘skål’ (cheers), and down your snapps. Snapps comes in various flavours but to me, tends to taste like a mixture of vodka and saw-dust and is lovely if you like burning your lips and throat during the meal.

Wine, or beer is also served through the meal, which is very welcome as something to wash out the taste of snapps with before you continue eating your meal.

Well that’s about it I think…. until Christmas Day.

I’m not totally certain what Christmas Day (25th) is reserved for in the Swedish calendar, but we celebrated it this year by going to Dave’s grandma’s and yet more eating! To my delight this time, the meal was a little more like an English Christmas table, with a huge turkey, veg, and potatoes. Unfortunately for me however, gravy, roast potatoes, ‘pigs in blankets’, stuffing, and cranberry sauce were not on the menu. It was however still extremely tastey and somehow I managed to fit it all in, including desert, and chocolates/sweets.

Today however, 26th December, I’m feeling more plump than the turkey, fatter than Santa Claus himself, and am not sure I’ll be able to face anything other than a cup of tea today… But we’ll see what happens later on.

Well there you go. Now you know how Christmas goes here in Sweden…

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