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...
- 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