Julgodis are the sweet Christmas treats that make you want to jump the line at the julbord.
From the time the first container of pepparkakor materializes in supermarkets around late November to the last julbord served sometime in early January, Christmas in Sweden is nothing if not a gastronomic adventure. As anyone who has ever improperly navigated through a julbord knows, it can also be something of a labyrinth at times. Fortunately, the reward is sweet, especially when it comes in the form of julgodis (Swedish Christmas sweets).
Among the most traditional julgodis are those that have been appearing at the Swedish julbord since the mid-1800s, like marzipan, caramel and toffee. Though also common in the Christmas traditions of other countries, there is a distinct Swedish tradition behind each of these julgodis.
Some of the sweets associated with Christmas in Sweden, like marzipan figures (marsipanfigurer), were a part of high-status banquets for centuries before making their way onto the julbord. And while marzipan has a long history as a Christmas sweet in southern European countries like Spain, you’d be hard-pressed to find a marzipan jultomte or marsipangris (marzipan pig) there.
Likewise, according to the Swedish National Encyclopaedia, knäck (Swedish toffee) has been around since the late 1600s, long before it earned its reputation as a quintessential Christmas sweet. One thing that likely hasn’t changed about knäck over the centuries is its basic recipe, which consists of exactly equal parts of sugar, cream and syrup. Of course, julknäck frequently incorporates other flavours associated with Christmas in Sweden, such as saffron and orange. It’s also such a special Swedish Christmas sweet that certain brands of glögg are made to evoke the flavour of knäck.
Other julgodis made it into the julbord tradition in a slightly more roundabout way. In the 1870s, for instance, small wrapped caramels (julkaramellen) were not placed on the Christmas table, but were instead hung on the Christmas tree, according to Lena Kättström Höök, curator at Stockholm’s Nordiska Museet, who describes the tradition in her book, God Jul! Från midvinterblot till Kalle Anka. There they would hang until the Christmas tree was taken down at the end of the season – much to the frustration of children and anyone else with a sweet tooth, no doubt – when they could finally be eaten during the Julgransplundring (literally, the plundering of the Christmas tree).