Donald Duck and Christmas?
You may be surprised to learn that one of the most important Swedish Christmas traditions today is Donald Duck. At 3 p.m. every Christmas Eve since 1960, Swedish public television has aired “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” (Disney’s Christmas special “From All of Us to All of You”) but with the Swedish title “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.” Ever since its debut, it has consistently been one of the most watched TV programs in Sweden, at times attracting close to half of the country’s population.
It has become so popular that a common question in Swedish homes on Christmas Eve is whether the Christmas dinner, with its traditional herring, Jansson’s temptation, meatballs, lutfisk, and ham, should be eaten before or after everybody has watched Kalle Anka. Trust me, I remember such heated discussions from my childhood and youth in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
Why has Donald Duck come to occupy such a central position in Swedish Christmases? The answer lies in the structure of Swedish television. From the beginning, Swedish radio and tv were non-commercial, financed through license fees and taxes. The model was the BBC in Great Britain, and it was not until 1987 that commercial television was introduced.
In the early years, the programming was quite educational, with relatively few entertainment programs, mostly from the United States. I Love Lucy and Bonanza, for example, became big hits in Sweden. Cartoons, however, were rarely shown, especially the Disney kind. It was therefore a real treat when Swedish television began broadcasting “From All of Us to All of You” on Christmas Eve, both sub-titled and with Swedish voiceover. Over the years, the content has varied, but “Santa’s Workshop” and “Ferdinand the Bull” remain absolute favorites.
When Jiminy Cricket sings “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the end, the first verse is (badly) sung in Swedish as “Ser du stjärnan i det blå” by journalist and tv personality Bengt Feldreich. For many years, Feldreich was a respected science editor, each year interviewing the Nobel Laureates. He is, however, probably best known for his 16 seconds of singing in the Christmas “Kalle Anka” show. It has been said that he ultimately regretted agreeing to recording it on a whim in 1960.
God Jul with Donald Duck from Sweden!