This was to be my first experience of Christmas here in Sweden, an experience I was looking forward to due to us going to Maria’s grandparents for dinner. I had heard much of the vast feast she prepared, the endless flowing of schnapps and the drunken grandad who endured the wrath of the angry grandmother, oh yes, I was prepared, and I was hungry, and it certainly did not disappoint on expectations.
The journey out to Trelleborg from Malmo took about 45 minutes, pretty uneventful scenery, the flatness of Skane; someone had attempted to enliven the scenery by driving his Volvo straight into the middle of a roundabout and into the ditch. “Must be an art installation” mumbled Maria, in true Swedish fashion, no way someone could have been drunk and forgot the principles of a roundabout.
Glögg and cookies
Trelleborg was dead, no one really about, town was devoid of life so we hurried along to Marias grandparents where we were warmly greeted and ushered into the warm and hunger inducing home as the smells of cooked meats wafted from the kitchen. A quick peek in the kitchen promised a feast ahead as countless platters and pots covered every available surface. And we were quickly ushered onto the first round, the glögg, the sweetened warm wine served at Christmas, the Swedish version of mulled wine, of course exceptionally sweet. A glass of hot spiced wine, into which you generously pour almonds and raisins. Alternatively drinking and eating as you go.
Warming your insides from the cold and warming the brain with the warm alcohol, served with Pepparkakor (thin gingerbreads). Marias mother told me that it was tradition for you to break the gingerbread by knocking the centre with your knuckle into three pieces then silently eating all three and making a wish each time. My attempts were a little too hard and i managed to end up with mounds of crumbs in my hand each time.
The obligatory Christmas Schnapps
Grandad poured some beers then Grandma ushered us into the kitchen to grab some food. And so the feast began. Laid out before us was a plethora of Swedish Christmas fare: several fantastic varieties of grandma’s pickled herring, onion, mustard, and dream sauce? (like a special mayonnaise) , different homemade breads, smoked eel, boiled eggs, rolled pork belly, salmon, prawns, salads, pickled beetroots, different cheeses, and homemade mustards, this was just the starter. It was at this point that the schnapps and aquavit began to flow. Grandad taking every opportunity to do a shot with me when grandma was not looking from the other end of the table.
Another one. "Skål"
Another one. "Skål"
Anytime grandma looked down at her food or went back to the kitchen Grandad was ready with his firewater. His excuse was this Englishman at his table, must show hospitality after all. The next course was the main affair of the Christmas ham, the köttbullar, (little meatballs), the janssons frestelse, (a version of potato gratin cooked with anchovies), the brown cabbage, the fantastically tender slow cooked ribs, and the prinskorv (little sausages). A feast fit for Vikings, and of course granddad was not going to relent on the schnapps, it was the one time a year when he could get away with having a few drinks without the full wrath of grandma descending upon him.
The strange word "julklappar"
I was full, and slightly drunk after 8 shots and 2 beers, but this was not the end, no when grandma cooks, she cooks, the next was the very heavy rice pudding, then the Christmas cake, luckily at this point we did have a little pause in the gluttony. Time for julklappar.
Now this tradition of julklappar, Christmas clap as it translates, comes from the older tradition of giving presents in Sweden. Basically you just used to open the persons door, throw in the present, clap your hands to alert the person as to what you had just done then run off, so the person didn’t know who had given them the present that had just been thrown into their house. This is very Swedish, very lagom, and remaining anonymous, certainly has its advantages especially when you have bought them a really shit present. Nowadays that tradition has died out although the name stays the same. I explained to Grandma that a similar tradition still remains in England. More so amongst the young chavs, and not just at Christmas and instead of presents it’s generally a brick through the window, they do clap though but instead of running off stand there clapping at your misfortune.
What to do after 9 hours of eating, booze and presents?
The julklappar was sorted and everyone was happy, not a single badly knitted pullover in sight, then grandma pulled out her next round, homemade chocolates and toffees, followed by fruits and nuts. This was a gluttonous challenge of a Christmas, it had been a long affair of eating, a total of 9 hours of stuffing our faces, booze and presents.
What more to finish the day could there be? The obligatory Christmas day tradition of playing a board game? Pictionary it was to be and playing with a drunk granddad, a confused grandma and Per with the drawing ability of a 1 year old, the game did drag on for a while with some rather amusing realisations of simple terms. Grandad’s technique was by far the most superior, instead of drawing the picture he just wrote the word down instead.
Anyhow, us all dazed and half asleep after the afternoon’s gluttonous celebration the day finally came to a close. Thank you Grandma, Grandad and Thank you baby Jesus for the excuse of making me fat and drunk.
Mark Anthony Low