Celebrating Christmas in a foreign country is tough, right? You miss your family. You have no idea what’s going on. To top it off, Swedes can’t even figure out what day they’re supposed to celebrate on. The whole thing is cockamamie.
Fortunately, even though this is my first Christmas in Sweden, I’ve had some practice with Sweden’s other holidays, namely Springtime Christmas (Easter), Summertime Christmas (Midsummer), and Patriotic Christmas (National Day).
These holidays have been wonderfully rich experiences, yielding both memories that I’ll treasure forever and valuable coping strategies for situations in which the rules of play are unknown and running away is not an option.
Coping strategy number one: Focus on the food.
Coping strategy number two: Do not be afraid of the wine.
Coping strategy number three: Study the relevant holiday vocabulary in advance.
Seriously. It doesn’t matter how lovely and wonderful your significant other is or how unafraid you are of asking for explanations, by the time you interrupt a conversation mid-flow for the tenth time to ask what a word means, you will feel like an idiot and want to slink off to a corner to hide for the rest of the day.
Either that, or you and I do not react to this kind of stress in the same way, in which case, you probably do not these coping strategies in the first place.
In any case, how you handle the day once it’s upon you is out of my hands. What I can help you with, though, are the words.
Julklapp: Christmas presents
Etiketter: Gift tags
Det är kallt! It’s cold!
Julgrann: Christmas tree
Klä julgranen: Literally, to “dress the tree.” More generally, to decorate it.
*Chimney is skorsten, but apparently Sweden’s Santa Claus walks right in through the front door to personally deliver presents, so forget it.
Julpyssla: To channel your inner Martha Stewart and arts and crafts bedazzle your entire house/apartment for Christmas.
Ringdansen: The ring dance. If you hear these words, it’s time to finish your drink and/or hastily pour another.
Titta på Kalle Anke: To watch Donald Duck cartoons, a treasured Christmas tradition from ye good olde days. (Read the Slate article, “Nordic Quack,” here.)
Åka pulka: To go sledding
Rimma: Rhymes. Presents must be accompanied by a poem personalized for the recipient, written in rhyming couplets.
Food and Drink
Julbord: Literally, the “Christmas table.” It’s Christmas dinner, which is served as a large buffet. There’s a lot of herring, perhaps a casserole or two, a potato dish called Jansson’s Frestelse, and the pièce de résistance, the Christmas ham.
Hugg i: Dig in.
Jansson’s Frestelse: Literally, “Jansson’s Temptation.” A baked casserole made of potatoes cut into matchsticks, onions, bread crumbs, cream, and pickled sprats (not anchovies—don’t argue with me, argue with Wikipedia).
Julskinka: A baked ham, special for Christmas (and sometimes Springtime Christmas). I have never seen a real roasted ham in real life, so I am looking forward to the occasion.
Köttbullar: Meatballs. (Pronunciation here.)
Sill: Pickled herring. (Also important for Springtime and Summertime Christmas.)
Prinskorv: Baby sausages.
Kakor, Godis, Choklad, Pepparkakor: Cookies, Candy, Chocolate, Gingerbread.
Gröt: Some sort of rice pudding-porridge, served warm with an almond hidden inside. As popular legend would have it, if you get the almond, you’re destined to get married within the coming year.
Ris à la Malta: Another version of rice pudding-porridge, served cold without an almond. This version is not known to cause unexpected marriages within the coming year.
Julmust: A very strange Christmastime soda that tastes a little like flat Dr. Pepper. (Also appears at Springtime Christmas.)
Julkrubba: The nativity scene, from Jesus in the manger and cows lowing in the hay to the Wise Men bearing gifts and angels singing up on high.
Julhandla: Christmas shopping
Slå in: Literally, “to punch in” (?!). In this case, to wrap presents.
With any luck, that should about do it! More suggestions are always welcome, however. Merry (Almost) Christmas!