Julbord—Sweden’s Christmas Feast

Christmas is for eating your favorite food with the people you love. Unfortunately, sometimes the people you love can’t agree on what that favorite food should be. Rather than risk hurt feelings and grouchy faces at the table by choosing the wrong dish, follow Sweden’s lead: don’t choose. Have them all. You can’t have a true Swedish Christmas without a buffet of all the Scandinavian classics with a few modern favorites thrown in for good measure. So on the Fifth Day of Imported Christmas, we are having a julbord.

The standard julbord spread includes pickled herring (three kinds), smoked salmon, preserved cod, eggs, ham, roast meat, pate, salads, meatballs, smoked sausages, glazed ribs, red cabbage, rice pudding, saffron buns, chocolate fondant, tarts, truffles, flatbreads, crackers, and anything else the family wants.

The julbord comes from the Scandinavian smörgåsbord tradition of laying out a variety of food buffet style to serve guests. This tradition may go as far back as the 1500s, when wealthy Swedes would set out an array of food for guests to snack on while they waited for everyone else to arrive. These snacks grew into the main event, and now smörgåsbord meals are an integral part of Swedish celebrations.

The smörgåsbord first came to America during the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, thanks to the Swedish delegation. We first experienced julbord 73 years later when the local IKEA advertised a Swedish Christmas buffet. We bought tickets immediately.

The event itself was lovely. The food was delicious, there were musicians (including a children’s procession to celebrate Santa Lucia Day), and employees raffled off all sorts of IKEA goods. We love fish, so the food was right up our alley. If you don’t want three kinds of herring, though, there were also plenty of other options (including all the meatballs, gravy, and lingonberry jam you can eat).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IKEA didn’t host a julbord this year. Instead, we had a much smaller version at home after a shopping trip in their frozen food section.

There is something so festive about getting together with friends and family, sampling dozens of different dishes, and eating until you can’t move. If you’ve never participated in a julbord, find a local IKEA or make your own. You can use your Julbock for decoration.

Twelve Days of Imported Christmas

  1. The First Day: Sfincione—Sicily’s Christmas Pizza
  2. The Second Day: Pavuchky—Ukraine’s 8-Legged Decorators
  3. The Third Day: Chicken Bones—New Brunswick’s Crunchy Christmas Treat
  4. The Fourth Day: Advent Wreath—Germany’s Candlelit Countdown
  5. The Fifth Day: Julbord—Sweden’s Christmas Feast
  6. The Sixth Day: Mince Pies—England’s Medieval Advent Treat

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