Why do the Swedes watch Ivanhoe on New Year’s Day?

Why do the Swedes watch Ivanhoe on New Year's Day?
Ivanhoe rounds off a holiday season which contains plenty of TV-based traditions in Sweden. Photo: TV3/NENT Group
A lot of Sweden's holiday traditions centre around the TV, and one of the most baffling takes place on the afternoon of January 1st. What is it about the 1982 adaptation of Ivanhoe that gets people tuning in, year after year?

Amid their hangovers on New Year's Day, families across the country settle down with a kebabpizza or other comfort food to watch the 1982 film of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it follows a knight returning to England after the crusades.

Public broadcaster SVT bought the rights to the film in 1982, before which a 1952 adaptation was shown. In recent years, Ivanhoe has moved to commercial channel TV3 instead.

It's a big event in Sweden, to the bafflement of many international residents and even one of the film's stars.

Sam Neill, who plays the villain, usually takes to Twitter to share his confusion at the annual tradition. In 2017, he told Aftonbladet that the Swedish love of Ivanhoe was “an odd habit” and “the most bizarre thing I've ever heard”.

So just what is it that Swedes enjoy about the film?

Part of it is simply tradition; perhaps it could have just as easily been any other story that got told and retold every New Year's Day. And it's a bonus that once it begins, everyone knows exactly what will happen for the next the two and a half hours, meaning that family and friends can still chat while it's on in the background. With both action-packed fighting scenes and a love triangle, it provides plenty to discuss.

The holiday season includes comfort television across most of the world, with a focus on classic stories that can appeal to the whole family. The other obvious example in Sweden is the traditional hour of Disney cartoons shown at 3pm on Christmas Eve.

Still, Ivanhoe isn't quite as popular as Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) which is watched by almost half of Sweden, and typically pulls in a few hundred thousand viewers.

Curious? You can join in the fun by tuning into TV3 at 2.50pm on January 1st.


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