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Say skål! Swedish Christmas Drinking Songs Posted by on Dec 3, 2021 in Culture, Holidays and Celebrations, Swedish Language, Traditions

Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

It’s December – let the holiday festivities begin! Besides celebrating Christmas, Swedes enjoy advent and Lucia. Each holiday comes with a suite of songs that people know by heart. But at the dinner table with family and friends – a proper skål craves another type of jovial ballad – the snapsvisa. This week, we’ll cover 3 popular drinking songs that you’ll hear at the julbord. Plus, Will Ferrel makes an appearance to help you learn Helan går! 

Swedish Tradition of Snapsvisor

We talked about the festmiddag in last week’s post, and learned what a classy, but casual Swedish dinner party looks like. Now, let’s equip ourselves with the skills to skål (cheers)! Snapsvisor is the general term for drinking songs. Snaps refers to a spirit of some kind, and visor “ballads” or “ditties” comes from the singular noun en visa.

During holiday celebrations, guests may enjoy a glass of beer or wine with dinner but tradition will also have each person drinking something a little starkare (stronger) from a stemmed shot glass. What are folks drinking? Typically some type of akvavit (aquavit), a spirit distilled from potatoes or grain, commonly flavored with carraway, citrus, and dill, among other herbs and spices.

To help dinner guests get the courage to sing out, many hosts will print a sånghäfte (song booklet). Here are some common julsnapsvisor (Christmas drinking songs) ones that you’re almost guaranteed to hear during a sing-along.

Helan går

Helan går is a great one to kick off a round of singing because helan (the whole thing) also refers to the first pour of alcohol at the table. Helan går translates to something like “the whole thing goes down.” This one is a popular snapsvisa for any occasion. Here are the lyrics:

Helan går
Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej
Helan går
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Och den som inte helan tar
Han heller inte halvan får
Helan går

(Drink)

Sjung hopp faderallan lej

For the loose translation, see Swedish actor and Tomb Raider star Alicia Vikander and American Will Ferrell (did you know he lives in Sweden) teach Jimmy Fallon this popular song:

 

Looking for some classic Swedish Christmas songs and not snapsvisor? See my post from a couple of julsäsonger (Christmas seasons) ago for plenty of tips.

Tänk om jag hade lilla nubben

 

This is a common snapsvisa that you will hear at other högtider (holidays). Learn this melody, and you’ll be able to sing the next one too! Lilla nubben is a small dram or drink, and in this case, tänk om (imagine if) if there was one inside your throat, that you controlled with a little string…sound weird? That’s the premise of this song! 

Tänk om jag hade lilla nubben
på ett snöre i halsen.
Tänk om jag hade lilla nubben
på ett snöre i halsen.

Jag skulle dra den upp och ner,
så att den kändes som många fler.
Tänk om jag hade lilla nubben
på ett snöre i halsen.

Hej Tomtegubbar

This one is sung to the same melody as “Tänk om jag hade lilla nubben.” Mischievous tomtegubbar, little Christmas elves, get a shout in this song. 

Hej tomtegubbar slå i glasen
Och låt oss lustiga vara.
Hej tomtegubbar slå i glasen
Och låt oss lustiga vara

En liten tid vi leva här
Med mycket möda och stort besvär.
Hej tomtegubbar slå i glasen
Och låt oss lustiga vara.

Now you’ve got 3 snapsvisor to master before your next holiday gathering. If you need a little more practice, here’s another Will Ferrell video to assist you in your studies 😉

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.


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