No matter where you live and no matter what your family history, you’d be hard-pressed to deny: the communal celebration of food and good cheer brings families together as much as any other Christmas tradition.

As continues its global tour of Christmas traditions, it would be bad table manners, to say the least, to not pay special homage to the culinary influence of Christmas in Sweden.   

This northern European country, wedged between Norway and Finland, marks Christmas Eve day with a festivity known as “dipping in the kettle,” or doppa i grytan. A kettle is filled with the drippings of beef, pork and cabbage and each person dips a piece of dark bread into the kettle until the bread is soaked, then eats it. This custom serves as a gentle reminder to remember those who are less fortunate and who subsist by “dipping in the kettle.”

The somber, reflective mood lasts as long as the tempting offerings on the table, for Swedish families combine their Christmas Eve celebration with julafton, more commonly known worldwide as the smorgasbord.

Christmas in Sweden is a great celebration of food

To people in the West, smorgasbord has come to mean “all you can eat.” While this is a fair description, “smorgas” technically means bread that is covered with a spread on an open-face sandwich and “bord” means table. Combined, “smorgasbord” means a table loaded with sandwiches during Christmas in Sweden.

Although many countries have tried to replicate it, no one—at least in the opinion of—creates a smorgasbord quite like the Swedes.

A Swedish julboard often opens with a cold fish dish, such as pickled herring, salmon, eel, shellfish, gravlax (salmon that has been cured in sugar, salt and dill) and lutfisk, a dried cod fish that is soaked and boiled and served with a creamy gravy.

The second plate often includes cold cuts such as julskinka (Christmas ham), roast beef and turkey, a variety of cheeses, such as julost, and a multitude of breads, such as vortbrod, a sweet, dark bread.

Christmas in Sweden: Swedish Meatballs
Swedish meatballs lure Swedish families to the smorgasbord during Christmas in Sweden!

Hot dishes follow on the third plate and often include Swedish meatballs,  prinskorv (sausage), revbenspjall (roasted ribs), koldomar (meat-stuffed cabbage rolls), jellied pigs’ feet, green and red cabbage, beetroot salad and janssons frestelse (matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies).

There’s always room for dessert during Christmas in Sweden. Family favorites include ostkaka, a rich, almond-flavored custard served with fruit or jam. Then there are cookies, fruit bread, rice pudding, cheesecake and fruit tarts. Risgryngrot is a special rice porridge that should be eaten with caution; not only does it have an almond hidden inside, but tradition holds that the person who discovers it will marry in the coming year.

Clearly, this is no time to count calories; it’s time to enlighten your friends and family members about the origins of the smorgasbord through Facebook and Twitter.

Find the full story of Christmas in Sweden at Like the Swedes, you just might top it all off with julmust, a festive soft drink with a rootbeer kick that is so popular during Christmas in Sweden that it overshadows even Coca-Cola. It’s the perfect ending to a tempting gustatory tale.

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