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Christmas until Easter

by Emilie Eliasson Hovmöller

"Now it is Christmas again, and now it is Christmas again, and Christmas lasts all the way 'til Easter."

These are the lyrics in one of the most beloved Swedish Christmas carols.  The lyrics express that Christmas in Sweden is not only a traditional ritual, but a longed for break from the darkest time of winter. It is a wish for Christmas to last all the way until Easter, when finally the light saves all Scandinavians from moodiness and depression. Unfortunately the Christmas celebrations do not last until Easter, but at least it goes on for the entire month of December and half of January.

The holidays are a time for relaxation and reflection, to crawl into your winter lair, light candles and enjoy cooking all the food you have hoarded to survive the winter.

For Swedes, December marks the beginning of endless invitations to Advent gatherings with friends and family. It all starts the first weekend in December with "Advent Sunday" and entails drinking lots of' glögg' and eating saffron cake or saffron buns. I simply love the Christmas feelings these get-togethers give me. It is not only that I am crazy about saffron buns, but I love the coziness of the lit candles everywhere and the fire place sparkling which contrasts perfectly to the dark winter cold. There is a wonderful, almost childish, anticipation in the air, that there is more to come. The culmination for us Swedes is of course on Christmas Eve, which is the day Santa actually comes to visit.

Sweden is a great choir country, so there are Christmas concerts in every other church from the beginning of December until mid January. Beautiful Christmas carols are most important for me in conveying the true Christmas feeling. They express so much of the yearning for peacefulness - a time to pause and reflect on a spiritual level, far away from daily worries.

On December 13 we celebrate the Saint Lucia. Even though Sweden is a Protestant - and secular r- country, celebrating Saint Lucia is a dear tradition to us. In every work place and in every school and day care center there are Lucia processions, consisting of children and sometimes grown-ups, singing Christmas carols dressed up as Lucias, attendants, elfs and gingerbread men. Usually there is only one Lucia, with candle lit crown adorning her head, although in processions with very young children you often see several Lucias, as they all wish to play the Lucia part! After the procession there is Lucia coffee served with saffron cake and ginger biscuits.

The weeks following Lucia everything slows down. It is all a long waiting period for the holidays and filled with anticipation, especially among children. My oldest son Hannes was born on Christmas Eve, so the waiting is almost unbearable to him, with all presents during the year gathered to one occasion! We have decided to celebrate his birthday the day before Christmas Eve so that he gets his own very special day. That is also the day when we carry the Christmas tree into the house, and decorate it with ornaments such as glitter, straw figures, and Swedish flags.

Christmas Eve is the big day in Scandinavia, equivalent to Christmas Day in the US. This is the day when all children get their presents, the holidays start and most important of all - you can start to dig into the traditional Scandinavian Christmas food! At lunch time you eat a big Christmas buffet, filled with sausages, meat balls, potatoes, all sorts of herring, pies, and more exotic food like 'Jansson's temptation' and herring sallad.

It is almost magic with all the dishes to choose from - no wonder the expression smorgasbord originates from the Swedish Christmas buffet. While it is hard to believe on Christmas Eve, you do get tired of it in the long run, since the Christmas food leftovers lasts for at least two weeks!

In the afternoon we sing Christmas carols and we dance. Then the highlight of the day follows when Santa arrives with presents to all. Shortly thereafter rice pudding is served. An almond is put in the pudding and the person who gets the almond is the one who is getting married (or remarried!) the following year. I do not know how to interpret the fact that I always get the almond, since I have been married to the same man for almost seven years!

Christmas Day marks the beginning of a long resting period. This does not mean that the celebrations are over. Most people have another week or two off from work, since they only have to take a few days of vacation between Christmas and New Years and the Christmas tree is not to be thrown out until the weekend three weeks after Christmas. Then "you dance Christmas out" at a so called"Christmas tree plundering," where you strip the tree of all the decorations, throw it out of your home, and have your last Christmas meal.

And then you just wait another three months for the light to return...

About Emilie Eliasson Hovmöller - Emilie is the founder and president of Empression, a public relations and strategic communications firm in Stockholm, Sweden. A daughter of diplomats, she was born in Washington, DC, and returned as a teenager to New York City where she graduated from the United Nations International School and studied opera and voice at Mannes College of Music. Emilie's passions in life include writing, singing, and cooking. In her spare time, she is writing a book and sings in a vocal ensemble. Emilie also bakes at least twice a week with her two young children. Please visit her web site: www.empression.se

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