Something Swedish

Cheers!: “Skål!”


In the spirit of waking up with a slight hangover this morning it seems appropriate to write a bit about Swedish drinking traditions. “Skål!” was the first word I learned in Swedish,  being an important part of holiday dinners with family. I am shy about saying anything in Swedish but I know how to raise my glass proudly and collectively exclaim “Skål!” It means the same in Swedish as it does in English, which I assume would be true for any language or culture – congratulations, good health, well wishes, honor, prosperity, and/or  happiness.

My first visit to Sweden was during Easter, which is one of the biggest holidays here along with Christmas and Midsummer. Like any large meal I was met with the familiar festive holiday table full of food and drinks. A snaps glass was set at every plate, which is not a custom I was familiar with. Once we all sat with our plates filled with food the glasses were filled with Aquavit and raised high, “Skål!” with smiles and steady eye contact. No toast, no speech, just drink! Thankfully right before I was about to treat it like a shot, my husband warned me to only take a sip. It was strong and there would be plenty more skåls throughout the course of the meal.

For me, one of the fun parts about this exclamation is that I am excited to share it. Our friends and family are very considerate when it comes to speaking English in front of me when they can, of course they slip back into Swedish which I listen to and try to understand, but when it comes time for a toast they often politely smile at me and say “Cheers!!” to which I am grateful, partly because I get to respond with the one word I like to say, “Skål!” which is met with laughter and cheering, the American and her only Swedish word.

While snaps is a very popular drink here, especially for festive occasions and holidays, just like “Cheers!” a toast can be given casually or formally with wine, beer, liquor, with any drink for any occasion. An interesting tidbit about toasting at Swedish weddings, the bride and the groom do not usually give a toast or say a few words (or at least this was what my husband explained, maybe just to get out of giving a toast? :P). There is a toast master to organize toasts from guests, to which there is traditionally many.

When you go into a pub it is common to simply order a “Stor Stark,” which literally translates to “Large Strong,” meaning you  want a large glass of the strongest beer on tap.

Then there are also the drinking songs (“snapsvisa” or “dryckesvisor“). This is a strong tradition of short and cheerful songs that are sung before taking a drink of spirit. We were tempted to try  to implement this into  our wedding reception in an effort to share the tradition with my side of the family. But since it was a small event and half the guests do not speak Swedish we decided it would be awkward. I have yet to actually hear a drinking song, unless the overly drunk, barely conscious students singing obnoxiously in the street count, which is not exactly the sentiment I think of when I think of Swedish drinking songs, although I’m sure that might be where it ends up.

The most popular song that I found is called “Helan Går,” there is a youtube video of some people singing it here. It is a song to start the first drink of the evening, “the whole.”

Lyrics & Translation for Helan Går (The Whole Goes (Down)):

Helan går
Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej
Helan går
Sjung hopp faderallan lej
Och den som inte helan tar
Han heller inte halvan får
Helan går
Sjung hopp faderallan lej

The whole goes
Sing “hup fol-de-rol la la la la”
The whole goes
Sing “hup fol-de-rol la la”
And the one who doesn’t take the whole
Doesn’t get the half either
The whole goes
Sing “hup fol-de-rol la la”


For now I will stick to saying Skål, drinking songs seem a bit intense for a non Swede, however it is amazing that such an old tradition is still so strong. Cheers is an important sentiment that everyone should know how to say in different languages, especially if you ever plan to travel. Learn the word for “cheers” in whatever language you need here.



13 thoughts on “Cheers!: “Skål!”

  1. Great post! the snaps bit is a reminder of my first Swedish Christmas Smörgåsbord back in December, wonderful food and tradition!

    Skål in return 🙂

  2. Tack for adding me to your blogroll megalagom! how do you create blogrolls and add other blogs to it? just looked out the window and wow its snowing loads all of a sudden here!

    • There is a widget to create a blogroll in your sidebar (Depends on what theme you are using I guess) or what I did was I “added a page” and just manually made the list of links. Our snow is already fading away 😦

  3. thanks, both ways sound good, will try that when I get a mo 😉

  4. Good to know! We are going to Sweden for a long weekend for my first time – I can’t wait.

    Thank you for linking to Post Of The Month Club! It is great to have you there.

    • When will you be going? Which part of Sweden, very exciting! I hope you have a great time! thank you for HAVING a Post of the Month, looking forward to the results!

  5. And for those who are wondering about pronunciation:

    Hell and gore
    Chung Hop father Allan Ley
    Hell and gore
    Chung Hop father Allan Ley
    Oh handsom in the hell and tar
    and hell are in a half and four
    Hell and goooooore ………..
    Chung Hop father Allan Ley


    • Awesome- Thank you for that contribution! Very helpful, makes it easier to relate to 🙂 I heard this for the first time last weekend and I was so excited to here a drinking song but did not realize which one they were singing! I was a bit embarrassed since it was picked because I had written about this one in particular!

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  8. A new link for the idle passersby to a rendition of Helan Går:

    As with all things YouTube and link-worthy, it too will likely pass with the next snow…

    My local crew in Santa Ana, California, have taken up a seasonal smörgåsbord. I infuse my own Aquavit for the occasion. It has curiously lapsed in importing (2015) to the US. No matter; it’s fun making my own… which I now do year round!

    — Gerry

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