Snaps is another term used for aquavit, but to be called aquavit the mixture has to be flavored with dill or cumin seeds. These days it can be flavored with caraway, anise, fennel and citrus to mention a few. Snaps is the common name for all the herb flavored spirits you drink in small shot glasses.
Aquavit has been around for a long time. It was originally made by the Spanish and used as medicine. The herbs used in the distilled liquor all had different healing powers. It was even once considered a cure for indigestion and a cure for alcoholism! It has been widely used in the Scandinavian countries since the early Middle Ages, or 5th Century. In the beginning though it was only the monks who produced the aquavit.
In Sweden the swedes drink snaps around the holidays, or when we have smörgåsbord, accompanied with seafood like herring and salmon. The danes drink it all year round. It is always served well chilled, straight from the freezer, and unmixed. If you are a Swede, Dane or Norwegian you might enjoy this article about how snaps should be enjoyed, in the authors opinion.
There is a whole culture around the way we drink snaps. The tradition to raise your glass, high but not above your eyes, and then look into every guests eyes comes from the Vikings. It was a way to keep your eye on the others (who could be potential threats), even during a celebration. The word skål also comes from the Viking age as well. Skål means cup, which was what they used for drinking, a small drinking cup.There is also a long tradition of singing when drinking snaps. There are close to 10,000 recorded drinking songs at the Museum of Spirits in Stockholm. In Sweden a song is sung before a toast and many finishes after the toast.