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Why do Swedes watch Donald Duck every Christmas Eve at 3pm?

The sacred hour when Sweden goes quiet and almost half of the population watches reruns of old Disney shows.

Why do Swedes watch Donald Duck every Christmas Eve at 3pm?
What the duck does Kalle Anka have to do with Christmas? Photo: Buena Vista

Many countries have a Christmas television traditions, usually revolving around light-hearted entertainment or comedy that the whole family can enjoy, or something relating to the year in review.

In Japan, people watch the singing contest Kohaku Uta Gassen (The Red and White Song Contest) while Russians watch a musical and variety show, Goluboy ogonyok, or Little Blue Light.

Both Denmark and Sweden’s public broadcasters have a daily “Advent Calendar” TV programme with a short daily episode each day of December.

But Sweden might just be one of the countries that takes its festive TV most seriously.

At 3pm on Christmas Eve, Swedes settle down around the TV to watch an hour of Disney cartoons. 

Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (literally Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas, or From All of Us to All of You in English-speaking countries) has been broadcast on Christmas Eve since 1960.

Despite the title, the programme is a wide mix of classic Disney cartoons, plus two new segments added each year. It’s become cemented in Swedish Christmas tradition, probably because for ten years after it began, Sweden had only one TV channel, and only had two until 1987. 

There have been changes over the years. Only four scenes have been shown every single year, which are the opening of the programme. And many scenes have had small moments cut out, some for timing reasons and others because they are no longer considered appropriate (including one offensive scene featuring a black doll in the Santa’s Workshop scene).

The timing was set at 3pm back in 1976 after undergoing several changes, and even the slightest tweak to the traditional TV show usually prompts angry comments and even (mostly empty) threats of a boycott.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the American programme is so dear to Swedes. During that hour, Sweden becomes a momentarily quieter, more peaceful and possibly even safer place. 

Mobile phone operators report a dip in usage during the sacred hour. And there’s a spike in electricity usage at 3pm, as people prepare their coffee or tea and switch on the TV, which falls again at 4pm when the show is over.

Calls to the emergency number 112 have in the past dropped by anything up to around a quarter, a phenomenon known as Kalle Anka-effekten (the Donald Duck effect), with emergency services reporting that some people even state they waited until after the programme to report their crisis. However, this has in later years appeared to be on the wane. In 2017 calls only dropped by nine percent.

It’s still usually in at least the top three, and sometimes first place, of the most-watched TV events of the year in Sweden, often alongside Melodifestivalen, the bizarrely popular Eurovision Song Contest entry show.

In fact, in 2020, the first Christmas of the Covid pandemic, it broke all records and became the most watched show in Sweden since records began, with more than 4.5 million people tuning in that year.

Article first published in 2019 and updated in 2023

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