In a country filled with seasonal food holiday traditions, I have discovered the tradition to rule them all. The celebration centers on a certain group of foods and drink, but the focus is much more on the Christmas feeling tied to the smells and tastes than the food itself. You will know it by its name and the sound it makes as it goes down your throat:
Glug, glug, glögg!
Glögg sounds just like glug, and that is exactly what you do with it—drink it up! In the English-speaking world, we would call it mulled wine, but for some reason that makes me think of colonial times and men with powdered white wigs sticking hot pokers into jugs of wine… Clearly, I read too much historical fiction as a teenager.
In any case, glögg comes in a wide range of flavors and alcohol strengths, and I have yet to taste a variety that I dislike (although I do have my favorites). The most common base is red wine, although white wine versions, cognac and hard liquor-based varieties are also available, as are alcohol-free versions.
So far, I’ve tried a chocolate and chili flavored glögg and a cloudberry glögg, both of which were totally fantastic. Some varieties are spiced with cardamom, ginger, and cloves; others take on flavors like apple, cherry, or dried fruit. One of the most popular brands of glögg releases an annual “limited edition” variety, and this year’s special flavor was coffee-based. That does not sound appealing to me at all, but who knows? It could be delicious. We also have a white wine variety at home that we got as a gift, so we’ll have to give that one a try pretty soon.
As a side note, before this whole glögg party madness got into full swing, I was pretty confused about the alcohol situation in the glögg. Initially, I assumed that since you heat it up, the alcohol must burn off. An interesting midday experience with a rum toddy has now taught me that that is not so. Apparently, as long as you heat the glögg slowly without allowing it to boil, the alcohol is unaffected. Word to the wise.
Besides the actual glögg itself, there are a few more essential components for a glögg party: pepparkakor, or gingerbread cookies, lussekatter, a saffron-flavored bun in the shape of an S, and a little bowl of raisins and blanched almonds, which you drop into your glögg mug to soak up the flavor of your drink and then eat with a spoon once you’ve drunk all your glögg. You may also see oranges, dates, a stinky blue cheese to pair with your gingerbread cookies, and mjuk pepparkaka, which is like gingerbread-flavored bread (in the same vein as banana or pumpkin bread). Mmmmm.
One thing you have to know—and this is important—is that there’s a special word that gets thrown around a lot at a glögg party. Without it, you’ll be lost. Say with me: mee-sig. MEE-sig. Good.
The word is “mysig,” and it has everything to do with being snug, cozy, comfortable, having a family feeling, having a holiday feeling, enjoying something somewhat precious, being sheltered from the cold, nestled… and so on. I think the song “Let it Snow” gets at it pretty well, starting off with:
“Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”
That’s the effect you’re going for with a glögg party. Unlike other seasonal food traditions like Cinnamon Bun Day or the beginning of semla season (it’s a pre-Lenten pastry… I’ll meet you there in February), where you go a little crazy eating whatever the pastry of the day is, the glögg itself seems to be less important than the idea of ushering in the Christmas season.
Yes, a large part of the party is heating up giant pots of glögg for your friends, but you also decorate your house with candles and hyacinths, you bake and fill your apartment with the smell of saffron and gingerbread, and you listen to Christmas music. And I would just like to take this moment to reiterate that yes, I am friends with other people in their 20s, and I am not describing my latest hangout session with my gang of 80-year-old galpals.
Once you’ve done the decorating, the baking, and secured the necessary glögg, all you have to do is let your friends know that there will be glögg. They will come to you. That is exactly how I ended up at my friends’ glögg parties this year, and the atmosphere had an almost magical effect on me. I started thinking about how I wanted to decorate my home and what cookies I would like to bake for my friends. Where would we find a Christmas tree? What kind of ornaments should we decorate it with?!
Before I knew what was happening, the words were just tumbling out of my mouth. This is so cozy! And Christmassy! And MYSIG!