There are so many beautiful, time-honored, and happy Christmas traditions.
In their own unique and special way, they contribute to the warmth and joy of the season. But as is often the case, when taken out of context: they make no sense whatsoever. For example:
“Let’s go out to the woods and look for a perfectly healthy and graciously CO2-sucking Douglas Fir. We’ll hack it down, and – bring it inside the house”
“Then we’ll daisy-chain some cheap and likely hazardous colored lights together, and we’ll scatter them all throughout the branches of the hypo-hydrated tree.”
Now, before you all start thinking that I’m some sort of hoodie-wearing Scrooge, let me confirm that I’m solidly on Team Tannenbaum. And yes, Tiny Tim, we’re talkin’ your traditional evergreen. Not one of those red Melania murder trees, thank you.
For me, the only option is a real live and festive holiday reminder of the upcoming winter solstice. And all that comes with it.
Well, pinesap allergies aside: to each culture, their own. Because at Christmas, our Beloved Yuletide Tree Tradition is as normal to us as a 1950’s Donald Duck Christmas Eve Television Cartoon Festival is to the Swedes.
Oh, yes. Gather ‘round children. This is real:
Every year on December 24 at exactly 3:00 PM, Central European Standard Time, just about half of the population of Sweden will assemble around flatscreens that sit atop DIY-constructed IKEA cabinetry. And they will watch a very special, commercial-free holiday presentation.
A 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas production:
From All of Us to All of You
Or, as it is known in Sverige:
Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul! Which, as all you polyglots are well aware, means, … um…
(Hey, Google? Help me out, here?)
Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar dig god jul!, (or, in the spirit of korthet, let’s just call it Kalle Anka,) has been broadcast commercial-free on Sweden’s main public-television channel, TV1, on Christmas Eve for the past 63 years.
The festivities start with good ‘ol Jiminy Cricket presenting various Disney cartoons from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Most of these have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.
In his trademarked insect sotto voce, Jiminy serves up the old Disney Silly Symphonies shorts, as well as clips from films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book.
This formula is the same every year, likely in order to cash in on the maximum amount of multi-generational nostalgia. The only deviation is the introduction from a live host, who plays the role of Walt Disney from the original Walt Disney Presents series.
Because intellectual property rights know no international boundaries, you can be sure that there is a produktplacering clip of the latest Disney-produced movie of the day. That’s apparently the tradeoff negotiated by the ever-transactionally minded folks that live in a corner office in Orlando.
The cartoon-fest gets its name from the star of the show’s second cartoon, a 1944 epic called Clown of the Jungle.
In the course of six minutes, Donald Duck, aka Kalle Anka, gets sprayed with seltzer, blown up, shot, and nearly hung, and eventually driven insane by a demented woodpecker-ish kind of bird. Just right for Christmas. It’s right up there with The Gift Of The Magi.
You can just picture of the scene:
A sweater-clad, family gathering of kindly Swedish folk, bustling in and out of the room.
Preparing the smörgåsbord, with the show humming along in the background, like some sort of an alternate Christmas-universe soundtrack.
But this is not the case. The entire event is taken very seriously, and the unspoken yet fully understood rules are:
- You do not DVR Kalle Anka for viewing later.
- You do not eat or even prepare Christmas dinner while watching Kalle Anka.
- Regardless of your age or tolerance for Walt’s creations: every member of the family is expected to sit quietly together and watch.
And, you know, in its own way, that kind of dedication does sound fun.
So, how exactly did this become such an irreplaceable part of A Swedish Christmas?
Like a lot of off-beat traditions, it was the confluence of a few random circumstances.
When the show first aired in 1959, owning a TV set was a new experience for most people around the world.
The Swedes were no exception. Watching anything was a novelty.
For many years, the Kalle Anka Christmas event was the only time when Swedes could see American cartoons, Disney or otherwise. The fact that there was only one channel on the air – and that it would take twenty-three years to get another – helped as well.
Now, TV traditions aside, I figured that 63 years of this might be, well, enough, already. I figured that perhaps the good people of Sweden would want to move on to something a little more 21st century.
And I figured wrong. Every time the network programming team has quietly floated the idea of cancelling Kalle Anka, the public revolts. As early as the 1970s, when the news media learned of proposed plans to axe the show, the TV1 braintrust was excoriated.
This passion has only grown stronger with the passage of time.
The love for the Disney characters has become an indelible part of Christmas Eve. Even a gentile suggestion to perhaps tweak the schedule, and maybe slot Kalle Anka and his buddies in an overnight graveyard shift is vociferously vetoed by the adoring public. Much like ABBA and Saab, Kalle Anka has somehow become a definition of something Swedish. And it is not going anywhere.
Kalle Anka and his friends have made national icons out of its cartoon characters: Kalle, Ferdinand The Bull, Chip and Dale, Mickey Mouse and of course, Långben.
(For the Svenska challenged: that’s ‘Goofy’)
It also made a star out of Arne Weise, one of the program’s ersatz Walt Disneys. He hosted the show live from 1972 to 2002.
The whole thing took a toll on Arne. In 1992, he asked the network to allow him tape his portion of the program ahead of time so that he could be with his family on Christmas, and there was more outrage. “Sorry, Fake-Walt. No can do. We need you live.”
Weise blames his three divorces on the Swedish public’s intractable insistence that he present in real time, every year.
“I wasn’t easy to live with. I was in a bad mood out of nervousness before going on air, and tired afterwards. That doesn’t help to make you a good father or lover.”Source: Aftonbladet, 2007.
Whether it was because he was tired, or maybe it was just good old-fashioned passive aggressiveness: during his final taping of the show in 2002, Weise claims to have been “high as a kite” on the prescription morphine pills he was taking at the time.
So, is there a future for Kalle Anka?
Very likely so. It may seem offbeat to some.
But maybe the generations in Sweden are onto something?
They enjoy the show in the very same way that folks in other parts of the world enjoy their annual viewing of Rudolph, Charlie Brown, or The Grinch.
Most of the program is not about Christmas. But it doesn’t matter: The Kalle Anka fanbase will imitate the cartoon characters, quote lines, and generally have a jolly good time.
Exactly like: How everyone you’ve ever known does their very best Thurl Ravenscroft impression in the month of December.
For many years, a highlight of Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul! was when Bengt Feldreich, a popular Swedish radio personality, would sing a native language version of When You Wish Upon A Star, in the voice of Jiminy Cricket.
A Swedish newspaper asked Feldreich about the phenomenon in a 2008 interview. He summed it up pretty well.
“People always want to change everything, and make everything new.”
“And then, like in a fairy tale from when we were kids, there’s something familiar.
”Kalle Anka offers security in a confusing world.”Source : Länstidningen , 2008
I had never heard of this tradition, and now I am planning a trip to Sweden for an upcoming Christmas.
This sounds so wholesome.
However, I’m no fan of the whole Disney enterprise. Make it a Rankin-Bass production and I’d be happy to join the crowd.
Or I can play some Spiritworld to counteract the saccharine rush. 👹
This is the oddest yet oddly comforting Christmas tradition I may have ever heard. Good on Kelle Anka; about time she emerged from her brother Paul’s shadow. 🙃
How did you come across this awesome tale, mt?
De verkar hitta mig.
I know what I’m doing Saturday afternoon at 3pm.
I’d rather watch Kalle Ankara than the Queen’s, sorry we’re under new management so make that the King’s Speech that we have at 3pm every Christmas Day. Not that I’ve watched it since approximately 1988.
There’s a similarly baffling German New Year tradition for showing Dinner For One, an 11 minute British comedy sketch filmed in the early 1960s though the sketch itself dates back to the 1920s. Its shown in English but apparently still pulls in large viewing figures each year. It was filmed specially for German TV so had never been shown in Britain until 2018 – it hasn’t caught on here.
This is cool stuff!
By the way, I LOVE the TV guide close up graphic.
Have I mentioned that I collected every TV guide issue from late 1979 through about 1988? I finally, finally threw them away in about 2012. But I ripped all of the covers off and kept them. 🙂
Stanley Kubrick famously discarded the moving topographic trees from his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, and replaced it with a maze.
If those red trees moved, I’d be screaming.
Totally just reminded me of this:
Good one, Aaron. Brought back many memories of SNL in the early days (you can see them activating the branches by hand) but it still makes laugh out loud!
A very enlightening post, mt58.
Interesting how Disney is imbedded around the world.
Our family was addicted to the Wonderful World of Disney in it’s early years and I remember this episode very well.
I’ve spent today wondering if we ever had a Christmas viewing tradition. All I came up with was pre-5,743 cable channels ago the big treat was getting to watch watch Star Wars, Empire, and Return of The Jedi Christmas Day, I want to say it was ABC? I dunno, it all blurs together these days.
But then I remembered there was something I’d always watch every year – completely forgotten about it but it was the official Christmas season kick off for me as a kid. First weekend in December PBS would show The Nutcracker, with Baryshnikov. I really could care less about ballet, but watching that was always mesmerizing to me, and I knew all the music so that was bonus. The weird association is I know it was always on the first Saturday in Dec, because that’s when my parents would go out for their anniversary dinner, so I’d be home watching The Nutcracker. 😆
Det är fantastiskt, mt