Tag Archives: Swedish

Swedish Garden Game – Kubb


Interviewer – Tell me about Kubb.
LN – Um, kubb is a Scandinavian game that you generally would play outside on a small field of grass, with, in my experience, friends, at some sort of, like, spring or family get-together when the weather is nice.
Interviewer – Ok, um, how do you set it up, and what are the pieces that you have?
LN – So the players split into two teams, each team has five blocks, which are about a foot tall, and the blocks represent their army. Their army gets lined up on opposite ends of the field, so one army against the other. And in the middle of the playing field there’s a taller block, representing the king, which the players are trying to knock down or kill.
Interviewer – Do you, how do you kill the king, and do you try to kill the king first, or do you kill the armies, or does it matter what order?
LN – Um, so the starting team gets a set of six sticks, which are used to knock down first the blocks of the other team’s army, before they can knock down the king pin.
Interviewer – What happens if you knock down the king pin first?
LN – If a team knocks down the king pin before knocking down all of the other team’s blocks then the team that knocks down the king loses.
Interviewer – Okay. And do you just, or what happens if you run out of sticks and you haven’t knocked down all of the army?
LN – Then the sticks are transferred to the other team, and the second team has to collect the blocks, their blocks that had fallen. Those blocks get thrown on the field between the king and the opposing army.
Interviewer – And what happens then with those?
LN – Those blocks are then stood up and the second team needs to knock down those blocks before they can hit— before they can knock down the opposing team’s blocks.
Interviewer – Okay, So they have to hit, so then the second team has to hit the extra blocks, and then the regular army, and then the king.
LN – Correct.
Interviewer – So they end up just building up more and more things that they have to hit.
LN – Right
Interviewer – And then, if they don’t hit all of the blocks then…
LN – Then it’s just the other team’s turn.
Interviewer – And they, um, do they have to hit the whole army of five all over again? On the other side’s team. Or do they continue with whatever was left of the last round?
LN – They continue with the remaining blocks, so they only have to knock down the ones that they didn’t— that they missed before.
Interviewer – So then, you said, they knock down the armies, and then you go for the king? And that’s game over, you win?
LN – Yes.
Interviewer – Is it something you play once and put it away or do you play multiple times in a row when you take it out? Like is it a long or short game?
LN – The rounds are short so you can play a whole bunch of rounds.
Interviewer – Do you really like this game? Has this stuck in your head since you first learned it?
LN – Ya, it’s a lot of fun. I learned it when I was about thirteen, so 11 years ago. And, um, I learned how to play it when I was—when my family was visiting friends in Sweden, with our family friends at a picnic during the summertime. Um, so, when we came back home, we were actually able to find a set of kubb blocks, and so we have a set at our house that we play with, with friends in the summer.
Interviewer – So is this something that people usually buy, or is it traditionally handmade, do you know?
LN – Um, I would think handmade. They’re just pretty crude, like, blocks. They’re like, what, 3×3 inches by 8-12 inches or whatever? Something like that. And the king pin only has a few extra lines to set it apart.
Interviewer – Is this game usually played by kids? You said you learned it when you were 13, so that’s pretty young. Is it usually just a kids game?
LN – Um… no? I would say it’s a game played by everyone. But it’s—it has simple rules so kids can learn from a pretty young age.
Interviewer – Cool.
LN – It’s not all that complicated, but I don’t have a ton of background knowledge on it.
Interviewer – But your impression is its a really old game that’s been played for a long time? By… Scandinavians…?
LN – Ya. It’s a classic game and it seems to be widespread in Sweden, if not Scandinavia.


The game reminds me of other yard games like corn hole, or throwing horse shoes. They are all seasonal because they are played outside and rely on decent weather, and involve tossing objects with as much accuracy as a person can muster. Kubb seems to have more of a history or a narrative attached to it, because there is a king piece and army pieces, and you have to “kill” the other team’s army. I’ve never heard of corn hole or horse shoes having a narrative. The informant has taught other people—mainly their friends—how to play it, even though their friends have never been to Sweden. Kubb does not seem to be very widespread where the informant lives (USA East Coast), because they have never met anyone else outside of their family who was familiar with the game. It’s a competitive game, but also pretty chill, so it is fun to play while having a conversation with friends on both sides of the field, just enjoying a nice day.

St. Lucia’s Day Sweden

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (SC).

HS: So you have some particular traditions that you celebrate here in the United States that you got from your Swedish heritage, is that right?

SC: Oh yeah. Lots of stuff that we do and when I tell people they’re like, really? I’ve never heard of this before! So we celebrate Santa Lucia or St. Lucia Day- it’s kind of like a pre-Christmas holiday. It’s a really big thing back in Sweden where my family is from and we’ve kind of carried it on out here. It basically commemorates this girl who died while bringing food to Christians that were trying to escape the Romans. My daughter dresses up in all white to represent the purity of Saint Lucia and there’s a big feast after. Lots of amazing food. You’ve gotta try saffron bread.


My informant is a co-worker from my job. He is a Relationship Banker, and so we work a lot less closely than my other co-workers on the teller line. Regardless, he is a great guy and we enjoy a little office rivalry- he went to UCLA. Yuck. His parents immigrated to the United States from Sweden, but because he still has a lot of family living there, he visits a lot and in the process has brought back a lot of Swedish traditions to his family here in the United States.


We had gotten all of the pre-opening work done that we needed to get done, and it just so happened that our Branch Manager brought in some Dunkin Donuts to rally the morale of the troops. And so my co-worker and I sit there, grubbing some glazed donuts, going about the usual surface-level conversation. The typical weekend updates, customer complaints, all the good stuff. I decided to shift the conversation to talk about a tradition that my family and I had done the past weekend and asked if he had any that he did with his family. He was delighted to hear the question and started elaborating immediately.


It was interesting to learn about this tradition and how important it is in Swedish culture. According to some brief research that I did about the holiday, it is supposed to mark a time of light and happiness in a time of a lot of darkness. A lot of schools end classes early so that families can prepare for the festivities. The aspect of the holiday that I found most intriguing was how it incorporates both pagan and Christian traditions. This has to do with an inherent struggle between light and darkness that Pagan culture elaborates a lot upon, as the geographic location of Sweden leads to long periods of light and darkness instead of the typical day. Scholars have gone as far as to say that St. Lucia is simply the Norse goddess Freya “dressed up” as a Christian saint.

Source of Pagan “dress up” theory:


Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (SC).

SC: *Brings in waffles for everyone at work*

HS: No way! Thank you! These look absolutely amazing.

SC: No problem man. It was waffle day yesterday, but I wasn’t here. We have to celebrate today.

HS: There’s a waffle day?

SC: Yeah. It’s something that my family does that we got from Sweden. It’s called Våffeldagen. It’s actually a funny backstory. So we used to celebrate Vårfrudagen, which is another Swedish holiday, but because the names for the holiday and waffles are so similar, we just eat waffles instead.


My informant is a co-worker from my job. He is a Relationship Banker, and so we work a lot less closely than my other co-workers on the teller line. Regardless, he is a great guy and we enjoy a little office rivalry- he went to UCLA. Yuck. His parents immigrated to the United States from Sweden, but because he still has a lot of family living there, he visits a lot and in the process has brought back a lot of Swedish traditions to his family here in the United States.


It was about 10:00 am at work, and all of us were getting our pre-opening work done when my informant came in with some waffles that his family had made.


I never thought that some waffles would be the catalyst for a piqued interest in linguistics, but here we are. The fact that Swedes celebrate Vårfrudagen, or “Our Lady’s Day,” by eating waffles because waffles in Swedish sounds like Vårfrudagen, is, for some reason, just so interesting to me. It made me realize the real effect that language has on our everyday lives. Prior to hearing about this cultural development, I would have argued that the spelling of a word is rather arbitrary and probably has very little impact on culture. Våffeldagen, or Waffle Day, is proof that language has a profound impact on cultural and societal development.

Swedish Coffee Cake

Main Piece
Swedish Coffee Cake – its very good. Its key ingredient is cardamom, which is a spice. You make the whole thing from scratch, so after you make the dough, you braid, you roll it out, and then depending on what you want in it, its usually sugar, cinnamon, and raisins, some people like raisins, some don’t, and then nuts, and then you roll it up, and then when you’re making Swedish Coffee Cake, you make it in a circle. And then you take scissors and then cut it all the way around so you can flip the sides. We made this all the time really – it was so good, the kids loved it, so it wasn’t really for a specific occasion, its just what you did. I stopped making it because kneading dough is really hard and tough on the hands and arms, unless you were going to buy the dough, but I always made it. It is hard though, you have to bake the dough, punch it down, and then it rises again, and you have to punch it back down, it’s a lot of work.

The informant of this piece was born in America, yet her family comes from Sweden. She was taught this traditional recipe from her mother, and would make it very often for her children. Her children affirmed loving it and having it all the time, and mentioned they wish they still made it.

The informant of this piece is a 79-year-old women, born in America to the family of Swedish immigrants. The information was collected outside a home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

I wish that this traditional recipe had been passed down and used in my family! I would love to be able to celebrate my historical culture, even if through specific, traditional recipes! I find it really interesting that I have never tried it – even with the informant helping make important meals shared by the whole family, it has not been made, to my knowledge. I think it really interesting that specifically Swedish coffee cake is said to be made in a circle – I feel like most cakes are circular, although the use of scissors to flip the dough is interesting. It makes sense that it became harder and harder to make as the informant got older, but a big part of me wishes that wasn’t the case.

1. Julmust: A Crucial Part of a Swedish Christmas

Background information:

Julmust is very easy to find in grocery stores all around Sweden from November to January, as it is in high demand and often replaces the original Coca-Cola. At any other point of time during the year, however, it is very difficult to find as it is not Christmas season during the months outside the range of November to January. Therefore, as this drink is not always available, it makes the drink much more appealing to people because many enjoy the taste, feel that they can better celebrate Christmas with it, and feel that they will miss out if they do not drink it when it is available during the Christmas season, as they will need to wait until the next year to drink it if they choose not to drink it that Christmas.


Main Piece:

In Swedish Christmas traditions, food is an extremely important part of the celebration. Usually the array of Christmas foods or “julbord”, literally translated to “Christmas table”, does not vary much from family to family. The “julbord” usually always contains the Christmas ham among many other Christmas foods typically found around the world. A specific Christmas food that is significantly different from others around the world, however, is the Swedish “Julmust”. Anyone who has celebrated Christmas in Sweden knows about the importance of Julmust at the Christmas table, as a Christmas meal is not complete without Julmust. Julmust is a staple for many Swedish families, including mine, around Christmas time as it is basically a more festive version of Coca-Cola. It is seen as festive because it tastes very similar to regular Coca-Cola but also has a blend of spices mixed into the drink that give the flavor more of a holiday feeling. For this reason, many, including my family, feel that Julmust is essential to celebrating Christmas because they have the perfect Christmas drink to complement the Christmas foods at the julbord. Because I was raised with Julmust being an integral part of my Christmas celebrations, I cannot imagine Christmas without it. Julmust not only tastes good, but also is a drink that everyone in my family enjoys and therefore brings us together around the holiday season.

When we moved from Sweden to California when I was almost six years old, however, it was very difficult to find Julmust in grocery stores because American grocery stores do not know what Julmust is and therefore do not carry the drink. As a result, through searching online forums, visiting special Scandinavian grocery stores that were hours away, and going to IKEA, we were able to locate Julmust at IKEA and the Scandinavian markets and were thus able to celebrate Christmas in the United States with this drink every year thereafter.


Personal thoughts:

I am a huge fan of Julmust and cannot imagine my Christmas experience without it. Even though I have lived in the United States since I was almost six years old, I will never forget my Swedish roots and will continue to practice even the most trivial Swedish traditions such as drinking Julmust when celebrating Christmas.