A Christmas Eve in Sweden wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t duck on the menu – Donald Duck, that is. YLC’s Judi Lembke explains Swedish Christmas, one tradition at a time…
If you’ve attended even one Swedish Christmas Eve celebration then you already know that there’s little chance of avoiding the Kalle Anka tradition. This is where, at 3pm, all activity stops: everyone sets aside their food preparation and present wrapping and instead gathers, at 15.00 precisely, for an hour of ancient Disney cartoons.
Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas) started airing in 1959, back when Sweden had just one channel and TV’s were somewhat thin on the ground. There are a number of stories floating around about how this tradition started, so let’s start with the more or less official one. The story goes something like this: because Sweden had only one TV channel airing cartoons was not a priority so showing Disney cartoons on Christmas Eve was SVT’s little present to the nation, particularly to children.
There are other explanations, of course, the most interesting one being that back in the day when capitalist Walt was not allowed on state TV, Swedes were offered just one hour of Disney each year, on Christmas Eve at 15.00. Because it was such an uncommon occurrence people flocked to their screens to enjoy this rare treat. Walt used the hour to promote upcoming films by showing promo clips in between cartoons. To this day, SVT is contractually obliged to show promo clips from Disney offerings, and one, Robin Hood, became so popular over the years that it was absorbed into the mix shown annually.
One of the more interesting things about the Kalle Anka tradition is that most of the cartoons themselves have little to do with Christmas. Instead, you get about a dozen cartoons from the 30s through the 60s.
Another interesting bit of trivia: normally dubbing is the order of the day when foreign children’s programs are shown on Swedish television. While there is some dubbing (Bengt Feldreich sings When You Wish Upon a Star), there is actually a narrator who describes what is happening on your television screen and you can still hear the American voices of some of the characters in the background. TV personality Arne Weise was the host from 1972; when he announced he was retiring from the position in 2002 in order to spend Christmas with his family there were great fears that this was the end of an era but happily this didn’t come true. And every year, when discussions arise as to whether SVT should carry on airing Kalle Anka, many pearls are clutched and smelling salts smelt at the thought of doing without Donald Duck on Christmas Eve.
There are some rules that must be followed whilst Donald Duck is doing his thing: as mentioned, all holiday preparations are set aside for this hour, you don’t eat or make phone calls and one must never speak during the airing of Kalle Anka. Should you do so you will bring down the wrath of every person in the room – with the exception being that you are allowed to recite favourite lines along with the characters.
Although numbers have declined somewhat in recent years 40-50% of the country still honours the tradition, with nearly 4 million of Sweden’s 9 million citizens continuing to tune in.
So it looks like Donald Duck and the gang are here to stay for the foreseeable future. If you want to impress your Swedish friends and relatives learn some of the songs in Swedish and maybe recite a line or two before laughing uproariously with everyone else. But definitely DO NOT record Kalle Anka. It’s a absolute no-no. You either see it ‘live’ or you don’t see it at all. And that’s all there is to it.
To all of you from all of us – a very very God Jul!
Judi Lembke is an experienced journalist who goes through life with a serene if slightly deranged smile on her face. When she’s not shackled to her computer, she enjoys reading, cooking and sometimes watching embarrassingly bad reality TV. (But don’t tell anyone. She prefers to be seen as far too highbrow for that sort of thing.) Judi also works with communications and thinks coming up with clever ideas is about as much fun as one can have without taking off one’s clothes.