Swedish Christmas Food Traditions

Swedish tradition says Santa will visit at the end of the buffet.
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Food is central to the celebration of Christmas in Sweden. The julbord is a feast that Americans might call a buffet or smorgasbord and originated as a celebration of the end of a fasting period. The first three letters of the word julbord mean "yule" and the last four mean "table." Swedish families and restaurants may begin serving the julbord in early December and continue until Christmas Eve. Traditionally, several trips are made to the julbord and specific foods are tasted in each round.

1 Main Dishes

The julbord features a number of traditional main dishes, including kottbullar, or Swedish meatballs made with prince sausage. Pig’s feet, liver pate, salmon, pickled herring and various types of seafood are other common dishes. The star dish of the julbord is the Christmas ham, or julskinka. The ham is boiled and prepared using a glaze and breadcrumbs. It is served with a special bread called dopp i grytan, dipped in the juices from the cooked pork.

2 Side Dishes

Traditional side dishes are expected on the Christmas table. A special Christmas cheese similar to edam, along with sweet bread called vortbrod, are often a beginning course. Red and green cabbage is served in many forms, including cabbage rolls. You’ll also find beetroot salad, baked beans and boiled potatoes. Lutfisk, a dried white fish that is salted and soaked in lye, is a Swedish Christmas tradition that is an acquired taste for the uninitiated. It was traditionally served on Dec. 27 but has become part of a traditional julbord feast.

3 Desserts

To finish the julbord experience, a special porridge called risgrynsgrot is a featured dessert. The rice pudding made is also served for breakfast on Christmas Eve. A Swedish holiday tradition is to add something to the porridge, such as a toy or an almond. This goodie signals a special fortune. For example, if you find an almond, you will be married sometime in the next year. If you find a small toy, good luck will be bestowed upon you. Other julbord sweet treats include gingersnaps and Swedish toffee called knak.

4 Beverages

You’ll find a variety of hot and cold beverages at a traditional julbord. Glogg is a mulled wine that is served hot to take the chill out of a cold winter’s night. It can be made with or without alcohol. A Christmas beer called julol is also a common accompaniment to a julbord. A beloved non-alcoholic option is a Christmas cola called julol. Made with hops and spice, it is sold only at Christmastime in Sweden and is similar in taste to root beer. Children look forward to this treat during the Christmas season.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.