In Scandinavia Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day as in most other European countries. The day is spent in the company of family, in Sweden starting typically at 3 in the afternoon, when almost every Swede settle in front of the television to watch the program “Donald Duck’s Christmas”, a national tradition that has been ever present since 1959. This is followed in most families by a smorgasbord, after which Santa comes to visit with gifts for the children. On this day and evening, the streets are virtually empty, nearly all shops are closed, and there are only a few open restaurants, catering to tourists.
If the streets are empty on Christmas Eve, quite the opposite happens on New Year’s Eve. Many Swedes celebrate this night in the company of friends, not family, often at one of the finest restaurants or at private parties. As midnight approaches, streets fill up with people in festive clothes, who come out, champagne glasses in hand, to watch the fireworks and wish each other a Happy New Year.
The finest Smörgåsbord in the world is the one served in Scandinavian restaurants during the weeks proceeding Christmas. This festive meal includes mustard baked ham, smoked salmon, pickled herring, meatballs, sausages, different types of pate and local specialities such as browned cabbage and lutefish. Typically, a table is reserved on a December Sunday, and parties of family and friends sit down to enjoy a meal that lasts for several hours. This feast ends with rice pudding for dessert, traditionally served in a big bowl with one almond buried somewhere in it. The fortunate one who gets the almond is supposedly getting married during the year to come.