Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Soft Drink Wars

The traditions and imagery of Anglo-American Christmas are largely Victorian and urban in origin: Dickens's Christmas Carol, C.C. Moore's Santa poem, eggnog, coal-fed fire places and chimneys, etc. These motifs have spread around the world, but they encounter other Christmas traditions along the way, and some prove resistant.

Swedish Christmas carries strong connotations of rural pre-industrial life. Our Santa Claus is actually a mutated version of a protective sprite that used to be the farmer's little helper: tomtegubben, the "old man of the home plot". Our presents, julklappar, "Christmas doorknocks", are the descendants of prank presents tossed through the front door of the farmhouse after a quick knock. We decorate our houses with billygoats and other ornaments made of straw. Our traditional Christmas food is almost entirely based on lo-tech methods of food preservation, with salted, cured and smoked meats and fish. The only vegetables are such as store well (cabbage, apples), or, in the case of kale, grönkål, can be picked all through the winter in the garden as it stands tall over the snow.

The other day, as I was shopping for Christmas food, I found evidence that Swedish Christmas traditions have actually managed to beat the Coca Cola Company.

In Sweden a soft drink is sold at Christmas and Easter that is perceived as a traditional part of the old-time rural Christmas complex. Julmust is dark, very sweet, carbonated, seasoned with malt and a tiny bit of hops -- not enough to give it the bitter edge of beer. It's sort of a caricatured stout for kids. And for years, Coca Cola has tried to muscle in on this seasonal soft-drink market with it's flagship product, a beverage that is actually quite similar to julmust. But they haven't made much headway. Most Swedes perceive Coca Cola as quite incompatible with a traditional Christmas. CC is seen as part of post-war modernity and consumerist culture: it's the opposite of authenticity. Drinking Coke at Christmas would be a bit like erecting a model space shuttle rocket instead of a Christmas tree and playing electronic dance music while the presents are opened.

So what's a poor old soft-drink multinational supposed to do? If you can't beat them, join them.

Since at least 2004, Swedish supermarkets have offered large handsome bottles of Bjäremust brand julmust around Christmas. The label design screams AUTHENTIC, RURAL and OLD TIMEY. Bjäre is a rich agricultural district in Scania, southernmost Sweden, and unmistakeably Scandinavian simply through the name's orthography. And who, you may ask, offers this fine julmust to the authenticity-seeking Christmas celebrant? The Coca Cola Company.

I put the Bjäremust bottle back on the shelf and got some Spendrups, after checking that they hadn't put aspartame in it.

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Blogger Hans Persson said...

Apparently Sweden is the only country where Coca-Cola sales decline for Christmas. That's a good thing in my book.

25 December, 2006 22:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the greater scheme of things, who gives a damn about what's happening in a tiny corner of Sweden? Get real, after Sweden there is the EU, then Europe, then the entire world1 Say, where is Sweden anyway? There are more people live in unheard of cities in Indonesia, China, India, Russia and elsewhere, than in the entire country of Sweden!

26 December, 2006 00:16  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, you cared enough to read a long blog entry about this insignificant corner of the Earth.

26 December, 2006 08:34  
Blogger Henrik said...

Ahhh... Julmust!

The name alone sends shivers down my spine! How many litres of julmust have I not enjoyed that carried that sacred name? This is one of the few things (other than portions-snus) that I would gladly travel to Sweden to get hold of.

And it is nice that the Sweden who gave us Svenne & Lotta (in other words: The most evil country in the entire world, yes, even worse than North Korea!) could also bring so much joy and peace through such a simple, sweet drink.

Julmust. Ahhhh...

28 December, 2006 19:41  
Blogger Martin said...

Damn right! Julmust: legalise it, don't criticise it.

28 December, 2006 20:24  
Anonymous Johan said...

Say, where is Sweden anyway? There are more people live in unheard of cities in Indonesia, China, India, Russia and elsewhere, than in the entire country of Sweden!

I count eight, according to Wikipedia. 26 if we're talking about metropolitan areas, but all those 26 names sure look familiar to me. If you a) don't know where Sweden is and b) haven't even heard of several of the 26 most populated metropolitan areas in the world, I'm afraid it says more about you than anything else. And then threre's the question why you read and comment texts on the drinking habits in a country no one gives a damn about ...

I think julmust tastes terrible, by the way. It's far too sweet. Not worse than Coca Cola, though. But I hardly drink anything but water, beer, wine, and spirits.


30 December, 2006 01:41  
Blogger Martin said...

You just don't like julmust because you aren't a heavily populated metropolitan area, Johan.

30 December, 2006 09:20  
Blogger Josse said...

Haha, a very interesting observation from your side I must say! Julmust and Påskmust are btw the only soft drinks I ever drink! Nice blog btw, I didn't know we had such educated people living in Fiskis;)

24 April, 2007 17:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled on your post close to a year after you wrote it after googling julmust...anyways as an American who spent the last two years in Stockholm, Sweden I must say without hesitation Sweden does just about everything better...julmust no exception! I wont touch coke but I becamse fascinated with julmust!
Great post

05 December, 2007 17:47  

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