Our Swedish – American Christmas traditions

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                                                               John Bauer Christmas Goat

My family is Swedish-American, I am Swedish and my husband is American. We lived together in Sweden for 17 years and we have lived in Florida for 5 years now. Christmas is a very important time of the year to maintain family traditions, we like our children to experience the Christmas traditions of the American as well as of the Swedish part of the family.

Christmas Eve is the day for serving the big Julbord and giving Christmas presents to eachother. A traditional Christmas Eve in our family begins after breakfast with the preparations of the Julbord, a smorgasbord extraordinaire, the kitchen is crowded with family members preparing the many dishes , the aromas from the ham being cooked and other goodies make everyone hungry.  At 1pm the Julbord is served, must haves for our family is ham with dip, Prince sausages, Spice sausages, meatballs, ribs, liver pate, boiled potatoes, Janssons frestelse, stewed cabbage, pickled red cabbage, red beet salad, pickled herring salad, pickled herring, cured salmon, fish pate, vort bread, Swedish cheeses. We drink Christmas beer, julmust and schnaps with the food, and yes, we do sing Hej Tomtegubbar when we have our schnaps. The American part of the family is now singing this traditional schnaps song fluently.  

We sit down and eat for two at least  hours, everyone gets overstuffed and dazed by all the food and sit around waiting for next big event. At 3 pm the Kalle Anka show is on TV, as long as I can remember we have watched the same old Disney films from 3 pm to 4pm waiting for Jultomten (Santa Claus) to show up.  At 4pm in Sweden, dusk is falling and the kids start looking through the windows for a glimpse of a lantern light, the candle lit lantern that the Jultomte is carrying.

Excitement is building the closer we come to 5pm, and suddenly, one of the kids catches the first glimpse of a fluttering light coming up the driveway. The Jultomte who is an old man, dressed in red with white beard is slowly approaching, carrying a big sack over his shoulder.  He knocks on the door and asks Finns det nagra snalla barn har” or “Are there any good kids here”.  Parents in all times have told their kids during the year to be a nice and help out at home otherwise the Jultomte will not give them any presents.  The kids, especially the younger ones are very shy and a little bit scared to see Jultomten live, the kids answer in chorus, “Yes” and then Jultomten can begin giving out the presents.  Each kid gets one present and then it is time for Jultomten to leave as he has many, many children to visit that night.

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Typical home made Swedish jultomte,
sometimes the dogs of the house get more excited than the kids.

Once the children have opened their presents from Jultomten, the julklappsutdelning, the sharing of Christmas presents to everyone can begin. One person will take presents from under the Christmas tree and give out, one by one. With a big family gathering this is a time consuming project. During the Christmas present giving ceremony, the Christmas candy is served, a table is filled with special Christmas candies such as marzipan, homemade chocolates, fudges, Fazer’s  Grona Kulor, dried figs and dried dades, different types of whole nuts and a variety of cookies.

Late at night, the kids are playing with their new toys, the parents are sitting around talking or playing games.  

Right before we go to bed we put some rice pudding out for the trolls and give extra carrots to our horses. In Swedish mythology you are supposed to feed the trolls every Christmas Eve if you have a farm with animals. He will eat the rice pudding and protect your farm from bad trolls until next Christmas, another myth is that all farm animals can talk during the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Therefore we give our horses some extra treats late that night so that they will say good things about us.  We must have been able to keep our trolls, that I am sure followed us and our horses from Sweden, happy as we never have been visited by bad trolls.

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Talking horses

After the trolls and the horses have been fed, it is time to have a knackebrodsmacka with ham and go to bed!

A Swedish Christmas Day with our Swedish family begins early with the so called “Julotta”, Early morning Christmas Service. Swedes go to church at 7 in the morning and are greeted with lit up and welcoming churches all over the country.  In the late afternoon,  we typically have a formal, candle light dinner with turkey or a nice steak, we all dress up and sit down to a beautiful table eat for a long time. Our spirits are filled from the morning service and our hunger is stilled by good food in the company of family and friends.  

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Julotta from the good old days.

When we lived in Sweden we adjusted to the American Christmas by hanging stockings by the mantel piece so that the kids would have some small Christmas presents on Christmas Day morning.  In that way they had visits from two Santa Clauses, the Swedish that made a visit in person greeting the kids and the American who slid down through the chimney when everyone was sleeping and dropped off the gifts. Another American tradition we happily adopted was having eggnog, this heavenly drink we made ourselves in Sweden.  

The first Christmas in Florida was very different from the Swedish Christmas. Obviously there was no snow and it was very difficult to find the traditional Swedish Christmas foods.  I remember taking a day off to drive to the Swedish store in Sarasota, a project of many hours, to buy tiny and expensive jars of pickled herring, Swedish mustard and other stuff.  I had explored the shelves of our Publix store carefully though and found excellent pickled herring made in Canada, pickled beets and pickled red cabbage I also found, not exactly the same spices but close enough. The Christmas ham at Publix is excellent and juicy for griljering with mustard and bread crumbs.  Today of course, we have IKEA where we can find a lot of the stuff, still in small jars and overpriced but it gives us the real Christmas feeling.  

This is how I plan to shop this year for the Julbord:


Ham, liver pate, Yukon gold potatoes (to boil and for Jansson), WASA Knackebrod, pickled herring (white vinegar version very good), fresh salmon (for gravlax), frozen salad shrimp (for egg halves and shrimp wraps) pickled beets, pickled red cabbage, rutabagas (for Rotmos), fresh dill, green cabbage (for decorations and  heavenly cabbage stew), rice pudding (I add cinnamon and raisins and of course the almond), red wine (B&G Cabernet Sauvignon) for homemade glogg.    


Swedish anchovy (for Jansson), Mustard pickled herring, prinskorvar, Swedish mustard, gravlax sauce, Kalles Kaviar (mix with whipped cream on egg halves yum, yum), pepparkaks dough,  Dajm chocolate and a box of Paradise chocolate, Julmust (en masse).

The glogg or mulled wine should be prepared this weekend so it can be enjoyed a few days before Christmas and during Christmas.  

Our kids are old enough now to survive a Christmas without a Swedish Jultomte, they would not survive without Christmas presents though.

We are not as big a family here as in Sweden but during Christmas Eve we eat plenty of good food from the Christmas buffet and wait for dusk before we open our Christmas gifts, maybe we exchange Kalle Anka for the latest Harry Potter that came out on CD the other day. Living in Florida, Disney is no longer magic for us.

For Christmas Day the kids will get up in the morning and check their stockings and later during the day we will go to Orlando to visit family there for more Christmas gifts and a nice, candle light turkey dinner.

Christmas here in Florida is not so bad after all!


1 - Thank you so much for this walk down memory lane. Celebrating Christmas with my Swedish grandparents was much like this- although we had lutefisk on Christmas Eve, and my grandparents were "good Baptists" so there was no alcohol at our celebrations.

Does anyone know of any Julotta services in South Florida? This was our Swedish Baptist church's tradition growing up, and I miss it! I would love to find a local church celebrating Julotta.

God Jul!

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