Home Swede Home: A Traditional Swedish Christmas Celebration

There’s no mistaking Madison for Sweden—except at Christmas, when Mats and Karina Larsson raise a glass of glögg and celebrate, Swedish style.

Swedish Christmas
Guests raise their glasses of chilled aquavit and their voices in traditional song.
Photo by Ted Axelrod.

If You Think Of Swedes As Somber And Brooding, like Woody Allen, you have probably watched too many Ingmar Bergman movies—or, like most of us, have never had the pleasure of attending one of Mats and Karina Larsson’s fabled Christmas parties. Each year, Karina, a member of the Swedish Women’s Educational Association of New Jersey, and Mats, a sales manager, celebrate in true Swedish style. Into their home decorated with handmade felt-and-wool Santa crafts, they welcome guests with steaming cups of glögg—a mulled red wine that Karina fortifies with fruits, spices and brandy—and at midnight, toast the holiday with aquavit poured from bottles encased in ice. Their bright and cheery kitchen overflows with the scents of homeland delicacies: blintzes with caviar, home-cured salmon, Swedish meatballs, and the traditional potato-and-anchovy casserole called Jansson’s Temptation.

“Sweden was a poor country centuries ago, and that is why so many of our traditional dishes are simply made with potatoes and salted fish,” says Karina. “These were inexpensive and plentiful ingredients for our ancestors.” The expat Larssons and all their guests were raised in Sweden but moved to the States to take advantage of business opportunities.

“My husband and I look forward to opening our home, preparing family favorites and inviting our Swedish neighbors—from Chatham, Morristown and Basking Ridge—in for a night of fun,” she says. Adds Mats, “Although Karina does most of the preparation, I fulfull the role of bartender and am also the master taster.

Someone has to sample each hors d’oeuvre before it is served, and each year I volunteer in that area.”
To encase the aquavit, the Larssons snip off the top of a large square milk carton, insert a full half-liter bottle, fill the carton with water and holly berries (fresh flowers are substituted for summer celebrations) and freeze it overnight. Just before the midnight toast, the paper carton is peeled away.

Then the guests sing, Helan Går, a Swedish drinking ditty requiring the participant to down the shot in one gulp.

Click here for Swedish holiday recipes.

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