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The day before the dipping day Posted by on Dec 23, 2009 in Culture

Christmas Eve is not only known as julafton in Swedish, it is also known as the Dipping Day (Dopparedagen). And although we are Vikings and quite fond of our winter baths, this name has nothing to do with dipping in the ice cold sea. No, the name Dopparedagen comes from a very old tradition of dipping a piece of bread in meat stock. This rather unappetizing meal might have old hedonistic roots, but it’s more likely that the tradition of dipping the bread in meat stock was created out of practical (praktiska) reasons in medieval Sweden. During all the Christmas preparations, (fermenting the herring…) there was not much time to cook ordinary everyday food. There were probably only some pieces of dry bread left over in the cupboard. And since meat was banned during the medieval feast (fastan), the dipping became a clever way of getting the taste of meat without eating it. Also, the left over bread got eaten, soaked in stock and therefore – not dry and boring anymore.

This old tradition still lives on in many Swedish families, despite freshly baked bread and microwave ovens. Most of the dipping today is done with the left over stock from boiling the ham and the bread is most likely freshly baked wort bread (vörtbröd). Personally, this has not made this meal any more appetizing for me, and when it’s time for the dipping, I rather go for my second round of meatballs (köttbullar). And to be fair, this is probably not the most popular thing on the Christmas table – and not the most common either. Today, we can buy readymade ham, we make our ham in our fancy ovens and the majority of us have figured it out. There’s really no need to dip in 2009.

But I guess the dipping works in the same way as so many other traditions. They live on just because they are traditions and we quite like to stick to our roots and pass them on. Even though I never eat soaked bread, I am quite sure that one day in the future, boy, there will be stock on my Christmas table!

(And if you think this is weird, wait until I tell you about our tasteless lutfisk, a fish dried in the sun for several months, then rehydrated in water…)

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  1. Luke (Sydney):

    Nice post! I am particularly interested in European culture/customs prior Christian time. Not that I am particularly interested in Sweden’s pagan pass, but Sweden has managed to preserve the most.

  2. jennie:

    Thank you Luke! Yes, we sure are quite good at preserving customs (and fish…) in Sweden 🙂
    Take care and Happy New Year!

  3. Wayne Miller:

    We carry on the tradition in our families past on from our Grand Parents who came from Sweden in the late 1800’s. As they explained it, being sharecroppers, they did not have much meat. So it was a real treat to have a meat soup at Christmas. We continue doing it as they did it, using beef, pork, veal and homemade meatballs. We bake our own flatbread from a recipe passed down. To our Aunts & Uncles (most now gone), we grand children and our children and grand children it is a delicious meal, a real treat only done on Christmas Eve day.