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Swedish American Holiday Traditions

Author Patrice Johnson

Minnesota Historical Society Press
(November 1, 2017, paperback available October 2022)

From smörgåsbord and St. Lucia processions to Christmas Eve gatherings with dear family and friends, Swedish Americans are linked through the generations by a legacy of meatballs and lutfisk.


Christmas traditions, particularly those involving food, often honor our ancestors. Throughout the Midwest where Swedish immigrants settled, the dishes placed on the julbord (Christmas table) tell stories about who we are, where we come from, and where we are heading.

In exploring these holiday customs, Patrice Johnson begins with her own family’s Christmas Eve gathering, which involves a combination of culinary traditions: allspice-scented meatballs, Norwegian lefse served Swedish style (warm with butter), and the American interloper, macaroni and cheese. Just as she tracks down the meanings behind why her family celebrates as it does, she reaches into the lives and histories of other Swedish Americans with their own stories, their own versions of traditional recipes, their own joys of the season. The result is a fascinating exploration of the Swedish holiday calendar and its American translation.

Featured dishes include yellow pea soup (ärtsoppa) and Swedish pancakes (Svenska plättar); assorted Swedish cookies like pepparkakor, rosettes, and meringues; meatballs with pickled cucumber; the julhög, a breakfast pyramid of bread, cheese, fruit, and cookies; and so much more. Come, raise a glass of punsch, hear tell of holidays past, snack on cardamom bread, and celebrate jul the midwestern way.

Author information

Patrice Johnson is a Nordic food geek and meatball historian. She writes food and culture posts for a variety of web and print publications as well as the weekly column “Called to the Table” for the Gaylord Hub (Sibley County, Minnesota). She teaches Nordic food classes and presents interactive cooking demonstrations at sites throughout the Twin Cities and beyond.

Reviews and news

In the Media:

Interview with Patrice in Star Tribune Taste

Pioneer Press

Fox 9/The Jason Show

MplsStPaul Magazine's Best Local Food Books of 2017

Elk River Star


Video: "Becoming a Nordic Food Geek" with "Nordic Cuisine"


A Pretty Life

The Kitchen Whisperer

Advance Praise:

“This book makes me want to go into the kitchen and plan a holiday party! Patrice updates the flavors and shapes of traditional Christmas classics like Swedish meatballs and Lucia buns, creating a fresh new approach to these old-world treats.”
Beatrice Ojakangas, author of The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

Jul evokes a time when trolls were jolly and glögg brought festive souls in from the cold. It’s just the book I need to remind me that culture grows strongest when we break bread—or pepparkakor—together and share the universal humor of the kitchen. Jul is a smörgåsbord of bright, funny, and spicy food culture, and Patrice Johnson is the only person who could have written it.”
Catherine Dehdashti, author of Roseheart


Skurna Knäckkakor or Swedish Toffee Shortbread Slices

  • 264 pages
  • 50 color photographs, 100 recipes, notes, index, bibliography
  • 7x10 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681340432

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