Christmas Soft Drink Wars
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.
[More blog entries about Christmas, softdrinks, Sweden; julen, julmust.]