The Nordic region is undoubtedly the capital of Christmas. Santa lives in the far north of Finland, Bergen in Norway has the world’s largest gingerbread village, Oslo gifts Christmas trees to various cities around the world including London, Icelanders give each other novels, and so much more.
If you are planning to have a Nordic-themed Christmas, what better to do than to snuggle up in front of the television and watch a Christmas movie from the Nordic region. Here are some of our picks; if you know of any others please tell us in the comments!
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like a black comedy about a killer Santa who is causing children to mysteriously disappear. Of course, a film like this comes from the home of heavy metal, Finland, but don’t dismiss Rare Exports for its strange subject matter. Rather, a film that is able to mix Sami mythology, the struggles of those living in Lapland and a killer Santa deserves some praise. Rare Exports has become something of a cult hit and is available with English subtitles around the world.
It’s the eve of Christmas in northern Finland, and an ‘archeological’ dig has just unearthed the real Santa Claus. But this particular Santa isn’t the one you want coming to town. When the local children begin mysteriously disappearing, young Pietari and his father Rauno, a reindeer hunter by trade, capture the mythological being and attempt to sell Santa to the misguided leader of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. Santa’s elves, however, will stop at nothing to free their fearless leader from captivity. What ensues is a wildly humorous nightmare – a fantastically bizarre polemic on modern day morality.
Snekker Andersen og Julenissen
Norwegians love Christmas movies, and there are quite a few on this list. One of the newest Christmas films is Snekker Andersen og Julenissen, which tells the story of a Christmas-loving carpenter who is struggling to make his three children believe in Santa, so he swaps places with the real Santa to make a Christmas like no other. Sadly this film has only been released in Norway, but it’s worth watching the trailer. The two main actors may seem familiar: Trond Espen Seim is, of course, the Norwegian detective Varg Veum, and Anders Baasmo Christiansen has starred in a number of Norwegian movies including The King’s Choice. Seeing these two dressed up as Santa is worth watching the trailer alone. Snekker Andersen og Julenissen is based on a classic book by Alf Prøysen which is worth taking a look at too.
Fanny and Alexander
Arguably one of Ingmar Bergman’s greatest films, Fanny and Alexander is a heavily referenced classic, and despite its rather heavy theme and family message, its Christmas backdrop makes for a perfect holiday film for those film buffs looking for something a little more mature.
The 1982 Swedish film is a historic period drama that focuses on two siblings and their large family. Following the death of their father, their mother remarries a bishop who becomes abusive towards Alexander because of his vivid imagination. Despite the heavy themes, there are some wonderfully comedic moments as we follow this strange family through Christmas, and the set design is sure to bring some Christmas cheer!
Reisen til julestjernen
Okay, time for a classic. Reisen til julestjernen (Journey to the Christmas Star in English) is one of Norway’s most beloved Christmas movies, having been played on the public television channel NRK every Christmas since the 1990s. The film was made in 1976 and was directed by Ola Solum, who went on to direct one of Norway’s first major genre blockbusters, Orions Belt (1986).
Reisen til julestjernen is a family adventure film that starts with the princess of a small kingdom in Adventureland disappearing on Christmas Eve. She has gone out to find the Christmas Star. The Queen follows and the King curses the Christmas Star, so it disappears for years, until young Sonja arrives.
Reisen til julestjernen is based on a silent film from 1924 and is considered to be the first Norwegian adventure film. At the time, it was also the most expensive Norwegian film ever with a budget of 3 million NOK. The film was shot at Akershus Castle in Oslo, plus various locations around southern Norway. The winter they had planned to shoot, they didn’t’ get any snow and the film was almost cancelled. Luckily they were able to bring truckloads of snow to the Akershus Castle, and the film was saved!
Reisen til julestjernen is shown every Christmas Eve on NRK and NRK Super. If you happen to be in Norway then, be sure to tune in! If not, it is on YouTube but with no subtitles. If you are curious, click here to watch the whole movie. The film was remade in 2012 by Nils Gaup (Pathfinder, The Kautokeino Rebellion) but my Norwegian friends tell me to shun the remake and stick to the original! Here’s a link to the trailer for the remake, if you are curious.
Christopher’s Christmas Mission
If you are looking for something animated, look no further than Christopher’s Christmas Mission, a 1975 Swedish animated short film directed by Per Åhlin. The story follows a boy who steals Christmas gifts from the wealthy to give to the poor people of Stockholm while working in a post office on Christmas Eve.
Much like the Norwegian film above, Christopher’s Christmas Mission is shown every Christmas Eve on Swedish and Norwegian national television, and it is also often shown in Finland too.
A Holy Mess
A little bit more modern, A Holy Mess is a Swedish comedy from 2015 that blends Christmas with the awkward events that come with reuniting with family for the holidays.
A Holy Mess follows partners Simon and Oscar, who are in a long-term relationship. Together with their girlfriend, Cissi, they have bought a house outside Stockholm. Cissi is also pregnant, but neither Simon nor Oscar knows who the father is. But that doesn’t bother them, they all plan to raise the child together! And what better time to tell their family than at Christmas. Their announcement doesn’t go very well, and what results is a genuinely funny and entertaining festive film.
A Holy Mess features some familiar faces like Robert Gustafsson (The 100 Year Old Man) and it was also the Swedish film with the biggest opening weekend of 2015, pulling in over 700,000 cinema admissions. Sadly A Holy Mess only had a limited international release, but if you can dig up a Swedish copy you’ll be sure to enjoy it!
Something is up with the Nordic region, turning lovely Christmas topics into gruesome horror movies. It’s a little hard for us to find Icelandic Christmas movies (if you know any, let us know in the comments and we’ll add them!) but we came across Unholy Night and had to tell you about it.
This short film tells the story of the 12th Yule goblin, Meat Hook, who comes on December 23. The film takes place in an abandoned schoolhouse in the back hills of wintertime Iceland. A gathering of participants in an experimental rehab clinic are visited by the bloodthirsty Meat Hook and the gore and terror ensues.
The story is based on Icelandic mythology and the story of ‘The Yule Lads’. These gnome-like creatures come around Christmastime and leave gifts for children in their shoes, and are often likened to the figure of Santa. However, the gift-giving is the only connection to Santa, because they are in fact nasty offspring from a mountain Ogress named Grýla, whose flesh-hungry appetite can be traced back to Snorri Sturluson’s prose Edda in the 13th century (read more Icelandic Christmas mythology here). They are more akin to goblins than “lads,” but in the spirit of keeping childhood pleasant place, the goblins have been stripped of their more fearsome attributes.
The short is available to stream online, which you can do here.
So, there’s our short list of Christmas movies. If you have any you think we should add, let us know!
If you want to say Merry Christmas in a Nordic language, here you go:
Danish: glædelig jul / god jul
Finnish: hyvää joulua
Icelandic: Gleðileg jól
Norwegian: God jul
Swedish: God jul
To wrap up, here’s a Christmas song from an old Danish movie:
Merry Christmas / God jul from Cinema Scandinavia!