Swedish Christmas flavors and their history

December is a wonderful time. Here we offer three popular recipes served on the Swedish Christmas buffet – and the story behind Swedish Christmas. 

  • Published: 12/16/2022
  • 4 min. read

Advent, lighted candles, gingerbread baking and mulled wine all mingle. December is a wonderful time – both for socializing with loved ones and for enjoying food. Here we offer three popular recipes served on the Swedish Christmas buffet – and the story behind them and Swedish Christmas. 

In Sweden, the Christmas celebrations already start at the end of November or the beginning of December. Generally, they start with the beginning of Advent - the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve. On that day, many people light the first candles (of four) in the Advent candlestick, place stars in the windows and begin the countdown to Christmas Eve. Gingerbread cookies and saffron buns are baked, Christmas butterscotch is dried, and eventually a little closer to Christmas Eve, this year’s Christmas tree is brought into the house. For centuries, Advent has also been a way of spreading light in the darkest times of the year. 

Christmas Eve, which we are celebrating today, with lit candles, a large buffet and Christmas presents, has been celebrated in much the same way since the 1800's. Together with countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland and Germany, Sweden celebrates Christmas on December 24th - contrary to many countries in the world celebrating it on December 25th. Another different thing about Swedish Christmas celebrations is the tradition of sitting in front of the TV every Christmas Eve at 3 pm – to watch Donald Duck & Co., which has been broadcast by SVT since 1960. Where did that tradition come from? Yeah, the real question is whether anyone actually knows... 

Three classic Christmas recipes 

Jansson's Temptation

A creamy and tasty gratin made from potatoes, cream, yellow onion and anchovies (sprat). But who was Jansson, anyway? And what did he tempt people with? In fact, the name of the dish is said to have come from a wealthy woman in Stockholm asking her cook to name the gratin before a dinner party. The cook chose to take the name from a recent Swedish silent film "Janssons Frestelse", which premiered in late December of 1928. The gratin has been around since the mid-1800's, but under the name anchovy gratin, and only began being served on the Christmas buffet in the 1960's and 70's. 

2 yellow onions
2 lbs/1.3 kg firm potatoes
7 oz/200 g anchovy fillets
1 ¾ cup/420 ml cooking cream (4%)
1 ½ cup/ 360 ml skim milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt

Set the oven to 350 °F / 175 °C. Peel the onions and potatoes. Slice the onion thinly and cut the potatoes into thin strips. Evenly distribute the potatoes, onions and anchovy (save the water) in an oven-proof form. Mix together cream, milk, anchovie water and salt. Pour over the potatoes and top it with the butter. Bake for 1½ h and then try and stop yourself from eating the whole thing - it’s amazing!"

Christmas meatballs 

Meatballs are also a relatively young dish on the Swedish Christmas buffet, and began to be served in the 1970's. The meatballs are juicy and seasoned with mustard, white pepper and allspice. Today, vegan “meatballs” are also common on the Christmas buffet, which are made from vegan soy. 


2 lbs/1 kg ground beef
2 tbsp mustard
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
1 yellow onion, grated
2 eggs
½ cup/ 120 ml cooking cream
2 tbsp butter"

Mix the ground beef with mustard, white pepper, allspice, and salt. Add the onion, eggs, and cooking cream. Rinse your hands in cold water and form into small meatballs, fry in a non-stick frying pan in butter or in the middle of the oven on 450°F/230 °C  for about 8 minutes. 

Beet salad 

A beautiful pink-red and creamy blend made from boiled red beet, red onion, apples, mayonnaise and sour cream (or quark as in the recipe below). Goes well with meatballs, ham, sausages and sandwiches. This dish is also a creation from the 1960's. However, as early as the 1800's there was a dish called red beet salad, but instead of sour cream and mayonnaise it often had cabbage and potatoes. 


14 oz/ 400 g cooked beetroot
1 small red onion
2 red apples
11 oz/ 300 ml light quark or yogurt
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Cut the beetroots and apples into smaller pieces, and finely chop the red onion. Stir together with quark or yogurt, salt and black pepper.

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