If you’ve ever spent any time in Sweden, you’ll know that] the crayfish party – known as Kräftskiva – is a beloved, time-honoured Swedish tradition. Crayfish parties tend to take place during August, making the most of the warm, light evenings.

This is when crayfish are in season (although nowadays most Swedes tend to buy imported crayfish from the US or China rather than catching their own). It’s a great excuse to have friends and family round to the summerhouse and sit out in the garden wearing ridiculous hats, munching crayfish and necking aquavit until late.

Crayfish parties are one of my favourite things about going back to Sweden, but if you’ve never been to one before then you might be in for a bit of a shock. I’ve written a few handy tips below to prepare you for what to expect and how to embrace the crayfish party for the beautiful social event that it is. Read on to find out more…

  1.   A crayfish party will contain all of the below:
  • Crayfish
  • Beer
  • Snaps (shots)
  • Drinking songs

If you like all of this things, then you’re in for a right treat. If you don’t like any of these, don’t worry, you will by the end of the night. SKÅL!

  1. Now I’m going to be honest with you, Swedish crayfish are a nightmare to eat: they’re little beasties with tough shells and spiky claws, and they will totally shred your fingers. But once you’ve had your fifth shot of aquavit and sang ‘Helan går’, you’re going to be past caring. There is something extremely satisfying about beating the crayfish (yes, I’m aware it’s already dead) and getting to the beautiful white meat within the shell. Eater 1, Shellfish 0.
  2. The crayfish is normally served with Swedish cheese  – västerbotten – and crusty bread or Krisp breads alongside. Crayfish isn’t the most filling of food – even if your hosts have bought kilos of the stuff, it’s not going to be enough to counteract the deadly intoxicating effects of continuously downing aquavit, so we recommend lining your stomach with some bread and cheese.
  3. Whilst we’re on the subject of aquavit – it is very important to wait and shot your glass with everyone at the party. You should shout ‘SKÅL’ whilst maintaining eye contact; don’t drink your snaps prematurely or alone because you will be judged.
  4.  If you want to really fit in with your Swedish friends, I would heartily recommend slurping the briney brain juice out of the crayfish’s head. Deeeeelicious.
  5. There will almost definitely be crayfish party hats and bibs at the party. There may also be crayfish-shaped bunting too, lanterns, and possibly tiny crayfish-shaped red sequins scattered across the table. These are available at pretty much all Swedish supermarkets and it is strongly advised to put both the bib and party hat on – the bib is a total necessity as this will be messy eating, but the hat is just to get you into spirit of things really.
  6. Don’t wear white. You are just asking to have crayfish juice splattered all over you. The darker or more patterned your attire, the better. Remember, it’s not just your own messy eating you have to look out for – you may be sat next to a nine-year-old Danish girl who definitely sees this as a crayfish-eating competition and tears apart a crayfish faster than you can say hej hej.
  7. Prepare to get messy. There will be crayfish juice running down your arms. Your glass will be covered in dirty fingerprints and the tablecloth will be covered in stains. There is nothing you can do to stop this, so use a napkin and just go with it. Embrace it.
  8. If you learn the words to ‘Helan går’, it will be better for everyone. This is the best Swedish drinking song, and it’s basically about singing and drinking (meta) and how great both of these things are. By the end of the night and the end of the aquavit bottle, you will know all of the words and possibly be fluent in Swedish. Please see below for lyrics:

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

(DRINK – YES, THE WHOLE SHOT)
Sjung hopp faderallan lej

There’s also a handy phonetic version that you can easily find on the internet if you really wanna practice. I say learn it on the night and copy the Swedes around you; by the end of your crayfish party, you’ll have sung it so many times you won’t be able to get it out of your head (which is a killer the next morning when you have a stonking hangover).

So there you have it; crayfish parties in a nutshell. But no list could ever do justice to how bloody wonderful they actually are – sitting around with loved ones on a warm summer’s evening, slurping crayfish, munching bread and cheese, shotting cold aquavit and singing drinking songs is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Get yourself over to Sweden and give it a whirl. You won’t regret it.