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Nothing is more important on the Swedish Christmas table than the julskinka (the Christmas ham). It is what separates the Christmas table from Easter and Midsummer. At Christmas, Midsummer and Easter, herring, salmon, meatballs, prince sausages and potatoes are served. At Easter, the eggs are in focus, at Midsummer, strawberry cake plays a big role but at Christmas, it’s the Christmas ham that is the star. 

A hundred years ago, many people ate gädda (pike) and eel for Christmas. Today, however, the Christmas ham is by far the most important dish on the Christmas table.

The Christmas ham tradition started in the 19th century. Eating ham on Christmas Eve is a relatively new tradition because, when Sweden was a Catholic country, meat was forbidden until Christmas morning. People would fast from St. Lucia's day and then finally eat a hearty feast when the fast ended on Christmas Eve itself. No meat was eaten during the fasting period. On the other hand, you could eat fish so Swedes normally ate porridge and lutfisk on Christmas Eve and had to wait until Christmas Day before they could eat ham. 

In the 18th century, the ribs were considered the festive part of the pig, and were the star of the Christmas table for a long time. Salted pork was eaten all year round, so it was not considered as nice. Ribs still have a place on the Christmas table but have had to take a backseat to the beautiful and sumptuous Christmas ham.

When it became acceptable to eat ham for Christmas Eve as well, farmers began fattening the pigs already during the summer and on the farm it was common to save the fattest pig to become the Christmas pig for the family. The whole pig was taken care of and apart from the Christmas ham itself, sausages, jam, meatballs and blood pudding were made from the pig and palt bread was made from the blood. In addition to the Christmas ham itself, the table was often decorated with the pig's head, which was presented with a red apple in its mouth. 

Nowadays Swedes boil their Christmas ham and then let it cool before glazing it with mustard and breadcrumbs. Once glazed, the ham is moved to somewhere cold, usually outside, to cool as quickly as possible. The idea is that this will trap the juices, to ensure that the ham remains moist and tasty.

Did you know?

- The most common time to eat the Christmas ham is between 11-15 and 16-19 on Christmas Eve.

- We eat around 1 kg of Christmas ham per person per year.

- 70% of people eat Christmas ham before Christmas Eve. The most common thing is that you eat it 1-2 times before Christmas Eve.

- When asked what is considered the most important thing about Christmas, Swedes very often reply that tasting a freshly, just out of the oven Christmas ham is considered the second most important thing after seeing the family.