Holidays

Traditional Swedish Christmas Food for a Delicious Holiday Dinner

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Last Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Food is a huge part of Swedish holiday celebrations. On Christmas Eve (called Julafton), families celebrate over a special type of smorgasbord, called a julbord (Christmas table).

You won’t find many vegetables here. The holidays are considered a time to indulge in filling and decadent foods, and most Swedish Christmas dishes are heavy on seafood, meats, and sweets. These foods are traditionally served buffet-style and are often only made during the holiday season.

Want to give Swedish Christmas food a try? Whether you go all-out with a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner or you choose a few dishes that appeal to you, it’s always fun to experiment with new holiday traditions. Here are a few of the classics you can expect to see in almost any home when the holidays roll around.

How to plan a Swedish Christmas dinner

Often, three to four generations of family members gather together to celebrate Julafton. When they arrive, it’s customary to serve Glögg as a welcome drink. Next, everyone will head over to the julbord.

When planning out what to make, you’ll want to make sure you have a variety of dishes so guests can enjoy three to four separate “courses.” For a large group, it’s common to serve a fish course, cold meats, a hot course, and a few different desserts.  

Glögg: a Swedish welcome drink

Two cups of christmas mulled wine or gluhwein with spices and orange slices on rustic table top view. Traditional drink on winter holiday.

Glögg is a Swedish version of mulled wine. It’s a staple in most holiday celebrations. This tasty drink is made by combining vodka, cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, ginger, raisins, and cardamom. It’s fairly easy to make at home, but if you want to keep things simple, you can buy pre-made Glögg from the liquor store and warm it up before you serve it.

There are also many varieties of non-alcoholic Glögg on the market. If you’re going to have children at your celebration, it’s a great idea to have some on hand so they can join in on the fun as well.

Swedish Christmas fish and seafood dishes

The first course typically revolves around fish, with salmon and pickled herring topping the list of local favorites.

1. Pickled herring

Pickled herring is a staple at many Swedish meals, but it’s especially popular during a julbord. It’s fairly easy to make at home, but if you’re short on time, you can also buy premade pickled herring at the store.

2. Gravadlax (marinated salmon)

This amazing dish is made with high-quality salmon that’s cured with sugar, salt, and dill. It’s thinly sliced and served cold with a dill and mustard sauce, called hovmästarsås.

3. Lutfisk (preserved cod)

Cod Lutefisk with pea puree, baked potatoes and bacon close-up on a plate.

Lutfisk is made of dried cod that has been preserved in lye. This gelatinous fish is a popular dish at many Swedish Christmas tables. Fans would say not to knock it until you’ve tried it.

4. Kräftsallad (crawfish salad)

This dish features crawfish tails, horseradish, mustard, mayo, dill, onion, and chopped cucumbers. Once you try this, you might like it so much you’ll want to have it all year long.

5. Ägghalvor (halved eggs)

A very simple and easy dish to make, Ägghalvor is made from hard-boiled eggs that have been cut in half and topped with brown shrimp, roe, or other seafood.

Swedish Christmas cold meats and pâtés

Cold sliced meats are traditionally the second course of a Swedish Christmas dinner. In most cases, the star of this course is the Christmas ham, called Julskinka.

1. Julskinka (Christmas ham)

Every Swedish family seems to have their own secret recipe for Christmas ham. It’s juicy, flavorful, and delicious! You’ll want to shop for your ham at least a few weeks before the holiday to make sure you can get the one you really want. 

2. Rödbetssallad (beet root salad)

You’ll find this beetroot salad on almost every julbord. It’s made with pickled beetroot, a small tart apple, mayonnaise, sour cream, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice. You can also garnish it with chopped chives.

3. Kycklingleverpaté (chicken liver pâté)

You’ll also find at least one pâté at every Swedish Christmas dinner. This dish is a chicken liver pate is made with port wine, garlic, thyme, and plenty of butter.

4. Tjälknöl (reindeer)

Tjälknöl is typically made with reindeer meat, but if you can’t find it, you can also make it with beef or venison.

5. Äpple-, selleri- och valnötssallad (apple, celery and walnut salad)

A high angle close up of a Waldorf salad on a white plate.

This salad has a simple dressing, which is a nice contrast to many of the heavy dishes and creamy sauces found at the Christmas dinner table. It’s made with apples, celery, grapes, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, and walnut pieces.

Hot Swedish Christmas food

While the first two courses are lighter, like appetizers, the hot course features warm, hearty dishes often served in larger portions. They’re also often paired with heavier sides, like casseroles and potatoes.

1. Prinskorv (sausages)

These small sausages are fried in copious amounts of butter and served with spicy mustard. They’re a popular holiday food that kids always seem to love. 

2. Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs)

Everybody loves Swedish meatballs! This dish is made with a mixture of ground pork, beef, and veal, and it’s served with sour cream, chives, and red onions.

3. Janssons Frestelse

This traditional dish, which translates as “Jansson’s Temptation,” is made with julienned potatoes layered with breadcrumbs, onions, and cream. Most people either love it or hate it since it’s topped with anchovies.

4. Rödkål (red cabbage)

Traditional homemade red cabbage stew.

While vegetables aren’t a big part of traditional Swedish Christmas dinner, this sweet and sour red cabbage brings a nice splash of color to the table. The tanginess is also the perfect complement to the heavy meat dishes.

5. Revbensspjäll (spare ribs)

Swedish spare ribs are often marinaded in mulled wine, soy sauce, orange, allspice, and rosemary. They’re often one of the most popular Swedish Christmas foods. 

Swedish Christmas desserts

If there’s any room left, most families will end their evening with at least a few traditional Swedish desserts.

1. Risgrynsgröt (rice pudding)

This basic rice pudding, also called Julgröt, is a delicious dessert and a fun game. It’s cooked with one almond, and whoever gets it is said to either get married or find true love in the coming year.

2. Saffranspuddingar med hallonsylt (saffron pudding with raspberry jam)

Another popular rice pudding dish, saffranspuddingar, is served lukewarm with raspberry jam and lightly whipped cream.

3. Chokladfondant (chocolate fondant)

This non-rice-based dessert is always popular among chocolate lovers. The glazed cranberries accent the flavor and give this dessert a super festive look.

4. Knäck (Christmas toffee)

Swedish christmas butterscotch candy knäck with almond, in small multi colored paper cups.

Knäck translates to “break” in English, and it’s named after the tooth-shattering potential of this Swedish Christmas toffee. It’s made with cream, sugar, and golden syrup mixed with chopped almonds.

5. Nötpaj med cognacsfikon (fig and nut tart with brandy)

You don’t have to be Swedish to love this traditional tart made of brandied figs, nuts, and chocolate. It’s delicious and decadent, making it perfect with nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream

Celebrate Julafton with your family this year

You don’t have to live in Sweden to enjoy a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. If you want to celebrate Julafton with your own julbord, Instacart’s professional shoppers are here to help. Just head over to Instacart.com, make your shopping list, and a shopper will either prepare your groceries for pickup or deliver them right to your door! With all the shopping handled for you, you’ll be able to spend your time preparing for this exciting celebration. 

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