Swedish word of the day: julgransplundring

Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word julgransplundring on a black background beside a swedish flag
Will you be plundering your Christmas tree this year? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s word of the day is julgransplundring, a compound noun made up from the words julgran (Christmas tree), and plundring (literally translated as plundering – defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “to steal goods violently from a place, especially during a war”).

The literal translation of julgransplundring may sound rather extreme, but the word has nothing to do with warfare. It describes the removal of Christmas decorations from the tree, which takes place on the 20th day after Christmas, known as tjugondag Knut (St Knut’s Day).

It is also known in some areas as julgransskakning or “Christmas tree shaking”, a slightly less violent way of removing decorations. Other Christmas decorations such as advent lights and Christmas stars are also traditionally removed on this day and stored away until next Christmas.

Since the 1900s, julgransplundring celebrations have been seen as an event for children, leading many families, schools, preschools and churches to organise parties on this day. Celebrations can also be referred to as kasta ut granen (throw out the tree), as the Christmas tree used to literally be thrown out of the window of the house – or off the balcony of an apartment – once it had been plundered.

Another term for julgransplundring is dansa ut julen or “dance out Christmas”, partly due to the practice of dancing around the Christmas tree on St Knut’s Day before it is thrown out, and partly due to the fact that julgransplundring is seen as the end of the Christmas period, lasting over a month from the first day of advent to January 13th. A common rhyme to remember this by is tjugondag Knut dansas julen ut (on St Knut’s Day, Christmas is danced out) or tjugondag Knut tar julen slut (Christmas ends on St Knut’s Day).

Other activities at a julgransplundring celebration can include demolishing and eating the gingerbread house and eating edible Christmas tree decorations hung on the tree such as pepparkakor or candy canes, as well as eating the contents of Christmas crackers. Guests at a julgransplundring also sing traditional dancing songs like Små grodorna (“little frogs” – also sung at Midsummer) and play games such as fiskdamm (“fishing pond” – where children fish for sweets or toys behind a cloth).

Example sentences:

Ska ni fira julgransplundring i år?

Are you going to celebrate plundering the Christmas tree this year?

Julgransplundringen är en rolig aktivitet för hela familjen.

Christmas tree plundering is a fun activity for the whole family.

Need a good Christmas gift idea?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

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