Christmas time in Sweden: THERE WILL BE GLÖGG!

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.

Cute little glögg mugs! Heres one way to remember how to pronounce glögg: glögg rhymes with glug and mug not clog. Photo: Kate Wiseman

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.

Three different varieties of glögg! Photo: Kate Wiseman

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.

Traditional glögg party accompaniments! Photo: Kate Wiseman

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.

Pepparkakor and lussekatter ahoy! Photo: Kate Wiseman

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.

Everything you could possibly need: the glögg, a heat source below, a ladle, your raisins and almonds, and spoons to eat them up with! Photo: Kate Wiseman

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!

  • Anna Back

    I so need to show this blog post for my aussie boyfriend who thinks I’m crazy because I want to have gingerbreads, glögg and listen to christmas carols as often as possible. I’m not alone, weeehooo! :D As always, thanks for a great blog!

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Haha yes! Do it. From what I’ve seen, that seems like perfectly normal behavior! :D

  • Kristl Huffman

    What a fantastic glimpse into the holiday season for Swedes! Thanks so much for sharing this, Kate! And, of course, for the new word!

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Thank you so much for reading! So glad you enjoyed :)

  • Anonymous

    Been glögg-ing out all weekend at various parties and I’ve found myself just nibbling on pepparkakor for absolutely no reason (even when I’m not hungry) because ’tis the season. Now Lussekatter, that’s another story. You could dedicate an entire blog to this strange-tasting oddity :)

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      I have had so much gingerbread in the last two weeks, and I’m not sick of it yet. Even the lussekatter, which I was not that into last year, are growing on me. About two hours after I posted this, I got a Facebook invite to a decorate the tree/drink some glögg party for next weekend… Swedish Christmas is clearly a marathon and not a sprint!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sten-Broth/100000648986514 Sten Broth

    Hej Kate! Jag måste protestera mot hur du tycker att orden mysig och glögg ska uttalas. Åkej, det är kanske svårt att få till det i skrift på engelska, men meesig och glug, näää.
    Lyssna här: http://sv.forvo.com/word/mysig/ och http://sv.forvo.com/word/gl%C3%B6gg/

    Apropå lussekatter så finns det folk som påstår att de bakar såna men utan saffran eller russin. Det går naturligtvis inte, en lussekatt ska ha både russin och saffran, annars är det ingen lussekatt.

    Short in english: the two links lead to a page where words are pronounced, in this case mysig and glögg. And I point out that lussekatter (lucia cats) must be made with both saffron and raisins, or they are not lussekatter.

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Tack för hjälpen, Sten! I hope people check out your links to see what’s what with the pronunciation… I think the Swedish “y” and “ö” are two that we just don’t have in English!

      Jag tankte skriva en bloggpost om Luciadagen som handlar om både myten och bakelser… du får gärna titta in igen då! Tack för att du läser :)

    • Linnea Sternefält

      Actually, I think “lusse” in lussekatter derives from “Lucifer” and not “Lucia”. Lussekatter, or more specifically the saffron (so lussekatter must contain saffron), according to some old odd folklore, is supposed to keep Lucifer out of your house. Also, Lucifer would walk around in the shape of a cat, hence “katter”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sten-Broth/100000648986514 Sten Broth

        tack, Linnea! As I read this, I think I knew that long time ago, but forgot it since.

  • Monica-USA

    Yes Kate it all sounds yummy and cozy!!! Have fun with your parties and decorating!!!

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Thank you! You too :)

  • http://twitter.com/ForbesOste Heidi Forbes Öste

    Great post Kate, thanks for sharing and the giggles. Can’t wait to hear if you hug a Christmas tree this year (yes they call cutting down your own tree in the woods “hugga”, quite contrary to the English meaning). Anyway, God Jul!!!

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Haha that’s awesome! Thanks so much for that… Gives a whole new meaning to tree-hugger! God Jul! :)

  • Daria

    Hi Kate, I moved here very recently and while looking for some info, found your blog. It’s great! I was wondering if you could help me out by answering a question noone seems to know. I am trying to bake some cookies for Jul and I can’t figure out if they have baking powder AND baking soda here. All I am finding is bakpulver which I assume is baking powder…? I hope you are enjoying your time in sweden, I am also American and now living in Stockholm.

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Hey Daria! Happy to help! Bakpulver is baking powder, bikarbonat is baking soda. :) One trick I use when it comes to cooking is look up the thing I want to find in Wikipedia, then switch the language to the country I’m in. If you’re lucky, someone will have linked them together. Happy baking, and God Jul! :)

    • Angelina

      Just googled it up and baking soda = bikarbonat! http://itstimetobake.blogspot.com/2011/02/bakpulver-baking-soda-bikarbonat-baking.html Good luck and welcome to Sverige! :)

  • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

    OMG, just yesterday I learned the word “mysig.” Cool, to have you use it. And DO tell us some more about the interesting midday experience with a rum toddy…details, Kate, details! ha ha

    • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

      Haha yes! Mysig! It’s everywhere!

      The rum toddy story (and accompanying photos) will make it to a blog somewhere near you fairly soon :) Take care!

  • Tom325

    You must make the glug from scratch. I was only a few years old when I first had it – to warm me up after helping my grandpa shovel snow. No I have my recipe and I use grain alcohol and port wine – then the rest – 1/2 orange, cardamon pods not the seeds – it can get too strong – cloves, white and brown raisins, and prunes and some sugar. Simmer a 760 jul of port wine and everything but the alcohol until the fruit is completely softened and the orange , too is cooked – 2 hours. Then add all the rest of the port – up to five liters or so. (1/2 orange for each 2 liters, 4-6 pods, 5-9 cloves, 1/2 – 1 cup each of the raisins and 6 prunes. About 1/2 cup sugar) This depends on how much spice and fruit you have used. When this is all steaming – add the alcohol (90 proof!) and let it warm again. Then light a match and burn off some of the alcohol – careful. Cover the pot and cool. Store it the same bottles as the port came in. After you sober up from tasting the brew and a few days later – heat to simmer or zap in a microwave to get just a bit more than warm – and serve to your friends – SKOL!

    My heritage goes back to Öland and Bohuslän. I would love to spend a year in this wonderful country TOO.

    • Tom

      Sorry about a couple typos. 760 jul should be about 750 ml. The rest of the spicing comes from taste and you love of all things scandinavian. It can be difficult to find the cardamon in the pods around the USA —

      • Tom325

        AND I left out blanched almonds – shame on me!!! 6 will do for starters.

      • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

        Great idea! I’d never even thought of doing it myself, but it sounds really fun. What kind of “grain alcohol” do you use? Sounds strong! Thanks for the recipe and the suggestion :)

        • Tom325

          190 proof (95% pure grain alcohol) – in the US it is called sometimes Everclear. Go easy on the spices until you really get a taste – which is why you get STEWED making it! Sorry about some of the typos – I just got a little excited in just sharing a recipe. Never did like any commercial versions of this. Some like to add brandy instead of the grain alcohol – but I find this does not create the same warmth or taste – and this will really set up a glow from your tummy outwards. It is also a great weekend of fun to have a glog
          making/brewing party – everyone can participate, stay warm and enjoy the fruits of your labor. – I do, however, know that this libation tastes much better a few days later – and of course because it is wine, it never spoils. Keep any extra and some of the spices – maybe in a mason jar for adding to any you may wish to heat lat a later date.

          Now – I bet that many others that may wander through here will likely have their own versions – but my grandparents taught me well – Happy Christmas to you.

          Now to just figure out how to spend a year or even consider retiring to Sweden (or Denmark – Tina Dickow!!!)

          • http://www.transatlanticsketches.com Kate Reuterswärd

            Everclear?! You’re a brave man. I had one encounter with that particular liquor about one month into college… never again.

            You should check out http://www.swedenabroad.com/Start____6989.aspx (the Swedish Embassy in DC) for some ideas on how to move to Sweden for a year if you’re interested! Best :)

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