Special: Christmas Vocabulary

2011-12-04. Published in Language & Culture
by Nils Pasi

Around Christmas, people tend to say things that they do not normally say throughout the rest of the year. Things like 'Merry Christmas,' 'Christmas tree,' and 'Happy New Year!' – you simply have no need of those phrases throughout most of the year. Today, we are going to have a look at those important Christmas season words and phrases in Swedish.

Important phrases:

'Merry Christmas' – 'God Jul' (Lit. 'Good Christmas').

'Happy New Year!' – 'Gott Nytt År!' (Lit. 'Good New Year').

'Happy Easter' – 'Glad Påsk' (Has nothing to do with Christmas, but notice the literal translation 'Happy Easter'. Here the Swedes use the Swedish word for.

'happy', not 'good').

'Seasons Greetings' – We don't really say this in Swedish. A literal translation would be 'Säsongshälsningar,' but you would be more likely to find 'Julhälsningar' (Lit. 'Christmas Greetings') or 'Glada Julhälsningar' (Lit. 'Happy Christmas Greetings').

Important Christmas vocabulary:

(I shall reverse the order here, i.e. start with the swedish and then give an english translation. The reason is that some of these words you will not typically find in english, as they refer to typically Swedish things and traditions.)

Advent – Advent.

Adventkalender – Advent calendar

Glögg – a special kind of mulled and spiced wone, often served hot around Christmas.

Jul – Christmas

Julgran – Christmas tree

Gran – pine tree

Julkorv – Christmas sausage

Korv – sausage

Julmust – a type of soda, similar to Coca-Cola, sold in Sweden around Christmas.

Julklapp – Christmus present

Julkort – Christmas card

Kort – card, photograph (note: depending on pronunciation, this word could also mean 'short').

Julotta – early morning service (in Church) on Christmas Day.

Otta – very old and seldom used word for early morning. Typically used in the compound word 'julotta' and the phrase 'stiga upp i ottan' ('get up [really!] early in the morning').

Kalle Anka – Donald Duck. It is tradition in many families to watch a Disney Christmas show on television on Christmas Eve. Several television channels broadcast Disney Christmas shows on Christmas. In my family, we have always watched the Disney Christmas show shown on SVT-1 at 3pm.

Lucia – the 13th of December is known as Lucia in Sweden, in honor and memory of Italian Saint Lucia who, according to Swedish tradition, brings light to the dark earth on the 13th of December each year. Lucia is celebrated throughout Sweden by watching a Lucia procession singing traditional Lucia songs, and by eating a special kind of sweet buns (lussekatt).

Luciatåg – Lucia procession. On the 13th of December, people go to watch Lucia processions and to hear them sing traditional Lucia songs. A Lucia procession is led by a woman dressed as Saint Lucia, the Italian Saint who in Sweden brings light to the dark earth on the 13th of December each year. Following Lucia are 'tärnor' (a 'terna' is a bridesmaid or attendant), girl attendants, and Stjärngossar (lit. 'Star Boys'), boy attendants.

Lussekatt/saffransbulle – A special kind of sweet bun with raisins, served on Lucia (13th of December). With saffron a key ingredient, the bun tends to be clearly yellow in colour.

Pepparkaka – gingerbread biscuit
Pepparkakshjärta – gingerbread biscuit in the shape of a heart. This compound noun can be good to know, since gingerbread biscuits are often sold in the shape of a heart at cafés.

Hjärta – heart.

Pepparkakshus – gingerbread biscuit house. Quite simply a small house built with gingerbread biscuits.

Hus – house.

'Live long and prosper' is a phrase used by a people known as the Vulcans in the television series Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry back in 1966. In Swedish it could be 'Lev länge och framgångsrikt.' Because this phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, I won't mention it here or bother to give a Swedish translation.

So there, God Jul, everyone, and Live Long and Prosper! : )

/Nils, Misi.se team 2010

NB: You can listen to me work my way through the phrases and vocabulary presented in this article by downloading the mp3 file here. It's long, around 15 minutes, but it does have the pronunciation of all the words and phrases, both in normal speed and pronounced slowly for easier learning. I will try to make it shorter and more concise next time : )    /Nils