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This is why Swedes hold on to this bizarre Swedish Christmas tradition
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Image: SVT/Buena

“In a way, this tradition is so bizarre that it becomes fun”, says ethnologist Charlotte Hagström on the fact that as much as 80% of Sweden’s population sits down in front of Donald Duck at three o’clock on Christmas Eve each year.

The Christmas special “From All of Us to All of You” is a Christmas Eve ritual that is so strong that Christmas Eve celebrations are often organised around it – people either sit down to eat before or after Donald Duck.

In the 2006 book Nu gör vi jul igen (Time to do Christmas again), co-authored by Charlotte Hagström, a young man says the following about Donald Duck:

“The only thing that is really fantastic on Christmas Eve, something which is unbeatable, is this hour with Donald Duck and just cosying up and watching old movies (…) Everything feels good right now, we are not thinking about anything negative right now, everyone feels good, everyone is sitting and smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves.”  

These feelings and the role of this tradition in Swedish Christmas celebrations can be difficult to explain to a person who is not from Sweden. Charlotte Hagström has had to explain on American radio what it is Swedes actually do between three and four o’clock on Christmas Eve.

“The role of Donald Duck’s Christmas is something other than it being special or particularly good. The programme represents something bigger. It is a ritual and a cultural tradition – everyone knows nearly all the words by heart”, says Charlotte Hagström. “People sit together; it is cosy and calm amid the chaos of Christmas. As it is not religious, it can also unite people as they know that in the house next door another family is also sitting and watching Donald Duck”, she continues.

Why do we have traditions?
“A tradition can be comfortable and safe to lean on. If two families are to celebrate Christmas together for the first time, bringing together all their different traditions, at least Donald Duck is set in stone at three o’clock. Traditions do not need to be very big either. It can be something as small as cosy Fridays (fredagsmys), when families gather with snacks in front of the television to mark the beginning of the weekend”, says Charlotte Hagström.

What else can be said about traditions?
“That traditions always change over time. For example, pig’s trotters disappeared from the Christmas fare a long time ago and in recent years more and more vegetables have been brought in, and vegan food has also started to emerge.”

“Traditions are also adapted to the situation people find themselves in. When the children are small you have Santa Claus, then when the children are a bit older Santa disappears only to reappear when the grandchildren come along”, says Charlotte Hagström.

How did Donald Duck become one of the Christmas traditions?
“One explanation is that when the programme first went on air in 1960, it was only possible to see cartoons on Swedish TV once a year and that is how it remained until the late 1980s. When the video came along it was considered wrong and sacrilegious to record it. The thing that is a little strange about this tradition is that it does not have any connection to Sweden.”

Will the tradition continue to be as strong?

“When we wrote the book Nu gör vi jul igen in 2006, which looks at the most common Christmas traditions, the Donald Duck tradition was still strong among children, perhaps because their parents grew up with it. However, it would be interesting to do the investigation again in ten years’ time”, says Charlotte Hagström.

“‘From All of Us to All of You’ can also be likened to a modern version of the storytelling that has existed throughout the ages. The films are reminiscent of the old stories in which good triumphs over evil - only we come together around the TV instead of a campfire”, concludes Charlotte Hagström.
Text: Gisela Lindberg
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