Swedish word of the day: julgransplundring

The word 'julgransplundring' introduces you to one of Sweden's surprising winter traditions.

Swedish word of the day: julgransplundring
January 13th marks the end of the Swedish Christmas season. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

January 13th is officially the 20th and final day of Swedish Christmas. 

It's traditionally marked with the julgransplundring or 'Christmas Tree plundering', which marks the end of the festive season. Alternative names are julgransskakning (literally 'Christmas tree shaking) or Knutsfest (St Knut's Day). Read more about the history of the date in the article below:

The celebrations, which have remained mostly the same since the late 1800s, typically start with a last dance around the tree, perhaps with a song, before removing the decorations.

That means that if you've had the willpower to make them last this long, it's finally time to eat the chocolate decorations and candy canes from the tree, and to smash and eat any gingerbread houses.

There are usually a few games and songs, especially 1901 favourite Raska fötter springa tripp, tripp, tripp (quick footsteps running, tap tap tap) which is about the end of the holiday season.

Then, the tree is taken away.

In centuries gone by, Swedes would toss them straight out of the window onto the street, but it's important to note that this messy and not so environmentally-friendly technique isn't the done thing any more. Instead, you should take them to the designated area in your local authority. If in doubt, check with your landlord or the head of your tenant-owners association (BRF).

Didn't have your own tree this year, or have a fake one that just needs to be put into storage? There still might be a chance to join in with the song and dance at a public julgransplundring, for example at Stockholm's Nordic Museum which hosts them each year, or at the Christmas trees located in some town squares.

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Swedish word of the day: ätt

This word of the day is often used when discussing royal lineages, but may also be recognisable to the descendants of Swedish immigrants abroad.

Swedish word of the day: ätt

Ätt may look similar to the Swedish word äta, to eat, but its meaning is unrelated. It originally comes from an Old Norse term ætt, which in turn comes from a Proto-Germanic word meaning something like possessions or property.

Ætt in Old Norse had a few different meanings, like an area or quarter (as in austrætt, ‘the east), a family or pedigree, and a generation.

In modern Swedish, it has two meanings. The first, most commonly used, meaning is similar to the Old Norse meaning – a lineage or royal house. Sweden’s royal family, for example, are ätten Bernadotte or the house of Bernadotte, descended from French-born Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, who was made heir to the Swedish throne in 1810. When the childless Karl XIII died in 1818, Bernadotte took over the Swedish throne, taking the name Karl XIV Johan.

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A number of foreign royals are considered members of ätten Bernadotte, including Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, whose mother was Princess Ingrid of Sweden (aunt to the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf), as well as Margrethe’s sister, Anne-Marie of Greece.

Historically, the word ätt was similar to a clan, and it is now only really used when talking about royal houses or historically noble houses – normal people would use the word släkt to talk about their extended family instead.

Although Sweden no longer has official nobility, there are still a number of families considered to be adelsätter or noble families, also referred to in modern Swedish as uradel. The oldest of these which still exists is the Natt och Dag family, which can be traced all the way back to 1280, while Oxenstierna, Leijonhufvud and Hamilton are also well known adelsätter (although the last of these is not technically uradel, if we’re being pedantic). 

In Norse society, you could technically be part of more than one ätt at once, although you’d most likely refer to yourself by whichever ätt was most prestigious. Usually, an ätt follows the male line, but it could follow the female line if this was more prestigious.

However, one area where ätt has hung on for normal people is in the word ättling, which describes a descendent, usually of a particular person a number of generations ago. This can be the ättling of some particular nobleman or woman, but it can also be used to describe the descendents of more normal Swedes.

The descendants of people who left Sweden generations ago to move to the US, for example, are commonly referred to in Swedish as svenskättlingar (descendants of Swedes), whereas the children of Swedes who left Sweden recently would more likely be referred to as utlandssvenskar (foreign Swedes).

The second use of ätt in Swedish is used when referring to groups of runes in the Elder Futhark, the Runic alphabet used between the 1st and 8th centuries.

This alphabet consisted of 24 letters – runes, technically – which were divided into three groups of eight. Essentially, these runes were seen as being part of the same clan or family, so they were also described as being part of the same ätt.

Example sentences

Den svenska kungaätten är ätten Bernadotte.

The Swedish royal house is House Bernadotte.

Jag är en svenskättling från USA. Det är därför jag heter Hansson i efternamn.

I am a descendant of Swedes, from the USA. That’s why my last name is Hansson.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.