22 Dec 2010

Julafton vs Christmas Day

No Comments Sverige vs Australia, Typically Aussie, Typically Swedish

Christmas is a very different tradition in Sweden and in Australia. To start off with it’s in the middle of the darkest winter in Sweden and in the middle of summer in Australia. I’ve not yet celebrated Christmas in Australia so I can’t say that I know from first hand experience what it’s all about but instead of rugging up in front of the fire, Aussies have barbeques and go swimming and in my mind it looks something like this: 😉

Both Swedes and Aussies have both Santa Claus, Christmas trees and decorations. In Sweden Christmas decorations also include red tulips, Poinsettias (in Swedish julstjärnor) and red or white Amaryllises.

Poinsettia and red Amaryllis

The food eaten is very different. In Australia cold turkey, ham, beef and lamb is usually served with salads and prawns. Trifle, pavlova (a meringue based desert) and Christmas pudding, served cold with cream and custard, usually finish off the meal.

Pavlova and Christmas Pudding
 In Sweden we eat a lot pickled herring, raw spiced salmon as well as warm food such as meatballs, Janson’s temptation (in Swedish Jansons frestelse), sausages and spareribs are served and of course also the bread flavoured with wort (in Swedish vörtbröd) and breaded ham. We drink beer, schnapps and julmust (a softdrink) and for dessert many people eat Ris á la Malta. Despite the name the dish has nothing to do with the country Malta. It’s consists of cold rice pudding mixed with whipped cream and flavoured with sugar, vanilla sugar and sometime decorated with canned mandarin wedges.

Ris á la Malta

Another big difference is that Aussies (with a large population of the rest of the world) celebrate Christmas on December 25, Christmas Day, and in Scandinavia and Sweden we celebrate it on December 24, Christmas Eve or Julafton in Swedish. We actually had a discussion about this, this weekend since Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus and he was born on December 25 (or so it’s said at least no one really knows and historics has claimed that he most likely was born in the spring and maybe not even in year 0, but that’s another story) so why on earth do we Swedes celebrate it on the 24?

The conclusion that we found was in short the following. The birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated at all for the first couple of hundred years, it was in the 300’s it was set within Christianity that it was to be celebrated on December 25. This was probably not a coincidence a number of other festivals were celebrated in the pagan religions around this time of the year and by placing Jesus’ birthday to the same period, it was easier to compete with the older religions and win over believers. Christianity reached us in Sweden in the 1000’s and that’s when we started celebrating the birth of Jesus.

When Sweden was a Catholic country, the tradition was to restrict what you ate and drank just before Christmas. You fasted until 24 December. Therefore at that time Christmas Eve wasn’t a real day of celebration. When you fasted you were not allowed to eat meat and on Christmas Eve you ate plain food, the festive food was served on Christmas Day. When Sweden converted to Protestantism the Christmas fast disappeared and people begun eating festive foods already on Christmas Eve. And today, in Scandinavia, it’s still Christmas Eve that’s the most important day of Christmas, while in other places like Australia it’s Christmas Day.

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