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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Christmas Pig

Advent Calendar / 9 December

The other day Ginny in her blog Let Your Light Shine had pictures of various strange Christmas decorations she had seen around where she lives; among them two pigs. I commented that the pigs were the least strange to me among those examples that she showed; and I promised to make a blog post including pictures.

Now after yesterday’s Advent Calendar post about the Christmas Bunny some people might think this is all a joke too; but today I’m actually into more serious research!

Pigs are quite common in Swedish Christmas traditions. As decorations they might be getting less common than they used to be, but unless you're a vegetarian, the Christmas ham is still the main course on the Christmas table. In the old days, and I think perhaps still in some restaurants, they used to decorate the pig's head with frosting, put an apple in its mouth, and have that on the table as well:

God Jul = Merry Christmas

One of the common pastry-cutters used for homemade Christmas gingerbread cookies is shaped like a pig:



There are also candle holders shaped like pigs:

image            image


and Christmas decorations with "tomtar"/gnomes riding pigs
(common on old Christmas cards I think):


No doubt the pig in the Christmas decorations goes back to pre-Christian Midwinter celebrations here in Scandinavia.

There was a boar Saerimnir in the Old Norse religion, which had sort of "eternal life". It was killed and eaten every night in Valhalla, the hall of dead warriors, where the god Odin reigned; but it was brought back to life again every morning.

The Christmas ham and the decorated pig’s head traditions can be traced back to sacrifices to the god Freyr for the new year.

The Christian faith is recorded to have been first introduced in Sweden by St Ansgar who founded the first congregation in Birka (near our capital Stockholm) in 829. (Links to Wikipedia.)

Sacrifices to the Old Norse gods were abolished as Christianity took over; but of course people still had to eat, and pigs were still slaughtered in time for Midwinter/Yuletide/Christmas...

Old and new traditions got mixed up in one another, as they so often do; until most people no longer know what’s what.

And so in Sweden we ended up with a strange mix of Baby Jesus in the manger, Christmas trees, candles, snow, pigs, Christmas gifts, the small gnome/brownie-like “tomte” and the Yule Buck mixed with the big jovial St Claus/Father Christmas and his reindeer... (And on top of that  since 1960 every family glued to the TV screen every Christmas Eve between 3-4 pm to watch Disney cartoons  – the link goes to an old blog post from last year.)

Oh, by the way… I mentioned in an earlier post that we also have a Christmas Calendar TV-show (a new one every year) running from 1-24 December. Guess who the “star” of this year’s Calendar is?

It’s a little pig!


None of the pictures in this post are my own;
they were all found by Google picture search.


Ginny said...

Well, this cracks me up! I didn't know ANY of it! I'm glad I posted those pigs if it made you do this post. The gnomes riding the pig is weirder than my pigs were! And that first picture of the big pig head, I hope it is all chocolate and not a frosted pig head, ewww! Thanks for mentioning and linking my blog!!

rae said...


Mac n' Janet said...

Love it! I make sugar cookies every Christmas and I always make pig ones, never knew it was a tradition anywhere just love the look of them!

Sandra said...

my first thought was oh boy you had access to a chocolate pig. then i saw you did not. lots of new info here and our traditons here have all kinds of things mixed in together. i like all your little pigs and think it a great tradition.

pethu said...

That TV star pig was actually born in the province where I live, so it's been front page news in both the major local newspapers this week... :)

GB said...

It's good to hear about traditions other than the ones with which we were brought up.


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