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Few Swedish Christmas traditions seem to surprise and fascinate non-Swedes as much as Kalle Anka. At precisely 3pm on Christmas Eve (Julafton), Swedes sit down to watch an hour of Disney cartoons that some seem to think are all about Donald Duck, or Kalle Anka, as he's known in Sweden. Here, a little history goes a long way toward giving the tradition some context and perspective.
Each year, millions of Swedes tune in to Swedish national broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT) to watch Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas), which first aired on December 24th, 1960, the same year the SVT Christmas Calendar (Julkalendern) premiered. In 2017, the programme attracted 3.8 million viewers – nearly 40 percent of the population.
The program originated in the United States in December 1958 as the televised Walt Disney Christmas special, From All of Us to All of You, which featured a series of short Disney cartoons that included, but was in no way centred on, Donald Duck. In Sweden, however, Kalle Anka – whose full name in Swedish is Karl Magnus Anka – had gained a reputation by the 1940s as the most popular Disney character, even over Mickey Mouse (known in Sweden as Musse Pigg).
Lady and the Tramp (Lady och Lufsen) also feature in the Christmas special. Photo: SVT
Beginning in 1948, an entire Swedish comic book, Kalle Anka & C:o, was dedicated to the character, and is still going strong today. When From All of Us to All of You was adapted for a Swedish audience, it was therefore only natural that Kalle Anka featured so prominently in the programme title. In this way, Kalle Anka became more than just the name of the character, but also a term to more generally describe the classic Walt Disney cartoons aired on Christmas Eve.
Though certain aspects of the Swedish Christmas special change each year, the core of the programme – the classic Disney cartoons – has changed very little over the years. Kalle Anka is part of the programming, of course, but it is not as though Swedes sit down to exclusively watch his irascible spluttering for a full hour. Now that would be a curious tradition.
Each day until Christmas Eve, we're looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series HERE.