Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul

As a child during the 1970s, I remember ABC-TV in Australia used to run some fairly “art house” cartoons in the afternoon. Well, we would call them “art house” today, but that wasn’t a phrase I knew or understood at the age of seven or eight. This was, of course, long before the days of the Afternoon Show with James Valentine, Michael Tunn etc. My memory is vague, though I can still vividly recall watching the programs which were in the days before colour television (1975) and they were largely without words. Years later, I assume they were cartoons made in Europe (Eastern Europe?) which the ABC probably picked up very inexpensively through some deal with the European Broadcasting Union. Sadly, a search on Google has yet to confirm this, or maybe I just dreamed this up. Am I the only person who remembers these?

Anyway, the point of this anecdote is to talk about the Swedish phenomenon of Christmas Eve viewing on Swedish television. Every year at about 3pm (the sun has set in most of Sweden) on December 24, roughly half the population sits down to watch Donald Duck cartoons. In Australia, we watch football grand finals, in Sweden they watch “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” (Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Happy/Merry/Good Christmas”.

As you’ll see from the images, it’s something which even trends on Twitter!

There’s a terrific article in Slate at the moment which explains the significance of the phenomenon.

You do not tape or DVR Kalle Anka for later viewing. You do not eat or prepare dinner while watching Kalle Anka. Age does not matter—every member of the family is expected to sit quietly together and watch a program that generations of Swedes have been watching for 50 years. Most families plan their entire Christmas around Kalle Anka, from the Smörgåsbord at lunch to the post-Kalle visit from Jultomten. “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you can’t to do anything else, because Sweden is closed,”

The article explains…

The show first aired in 1959, when Swedes were just starting to own televisions. “You couldn’t have done this in 1970,” said Charlotte Hagström, an ethnology professor at Lund University and archivist of the university’s Folk Life Archives. “It had to be 1960 when television was new.” The fact that there was only one channel in Sweden until 1969 and only two—both public-service stations run by Sweden’s equivalent of the BBC—until 1987 helped, too.

So why has it lived on?

Sweden’s affection for Kalle Anka is tied up with older holiday traditions. “It’s the dream of the old peasant village before people moved to towns,” she said. “Kalle Anka is almost like gathering around the fire in old times and listening to fairy tales.”

Interesting stuff. Which brings me back to those ABC cartoons from the 70s. Am I the only one who remembers them?