| || || || || || || || |
For more information on Sweden see Aussies in Sweden|
This month's posts -
Nu sÃ¥ Ã¤r det jul igen |
lÃ¶rdag, december 27, 2003
Well the silly season is well and truly over for another year. Ours was an unconventional, but enjoyable time, full of relaxation, time together, good food, church services etc. Not really the "normal" Swedish Christmas at all!
So what do Swedes do for Christmas?
A lot of quite strange things.
The strangest one is that they celebrate Christmas on December 24th! Why? Nobody can tell me. They all agree that yes, Jesus was born on December 25th. And yes, Christmas is about celebrating his birth. So WHY have the party the day before? I just hate celebrating it on the 24th. It doesn't feel right.
They still have midnight mass on the 24th (after the party!!!) and early church service on the 25th (after the party!!!). Does this make sense to anybody? The whole point of midnight mass is to be there at the point where the day changes and we can start celebrating the birthday from then onwards. The Swedish way makes me think of having the wedding reception, then asking everybody to come to the church for the wedding afterwards! Weird. Anyway, whatever the reason, Christmas Eve (Julafton) is the big party day.
Kalle Anka and Karl-Bertil
The next big and mystifying event is that Sweden comes to a complete standstill on Julafton at precisely 3pm to watch TV. "Okay," you are thinking, "it must be the King's Annual Christmas message". Nope! It's the screening of Kalle Anka a 30 year old tradition in Sweden. Everybody told me about Kalle Anka before my first Christmas here. It was treated with reverence as one of the highlights of the day. Having experienced the very moving and beautiful Lucia services, I was excited to see what splendid thing this Kalle Anka was.
It starts promptly at 3pm and the celebration of Christmas has become centered around this television event! Do we have dinner before or after Kalle Anka? Do we give out the presents before or after Kalle Anka?
So I sat with anticipation at 3pm on my first Julafton in Sweden and waited. An old Disney cartoon started and I thought this was the "warm up". But no. This was Kalle Anka! My first thought was "You MUST be kidding?"
But alas, they were not kidding. What Kalle Anka actually IS, is an hour of old clips from Disney movies and shows. Kalle Anka being what Donald Duck is called over here.
So we all gather around the tele, drink glÃ¶gg or julmust and nibble on almonds, raisins, clementine oranges, ginger biscuits, knÃ¤ck and ischoklad. Both young and old watch this event and it is estimated that 90% of Swedish homes come to a halt for this show. This year was especially important as for the first time since this began over 30 years ago, Arne Weise (pictured here) was not introducing it. Who would be the new face of Christmas in Sweden?
It turned out to be this young woman, Lotta BromÃ©, so I wonder if she will still be around after 30 years? The show has been pretty much unchanged for over 30 years and if they dare to omit any one of the favourite clips there would be a huge outcry. The main ones are Ferdinand the cowardly bull, Lady and the Tramp sharing a bowl of spaghetti, Woody Woodpecker (Hacke Hackspett) singing the apapapapa-pa-dia-papa-OH-pa-OH-pa song, Mickey, Donald and Pluto on their caravan journey and the one where Mickey Mouse cuts the Christmas tree, brings it into the house and then Pluto trashes it because Chip and Dale have set up housekeeping in the tree.
Then later is another tradition, Karl-Bertil, a Swedish cartoon about a young guy, who gets a seasonal job in the post office but is struck by the inequality of rich people getting tons of lovely gifts, like chocolates, food and wine, when there are others more deserving not having a very good time, so he "appropriates" and "redirects" the gifts. It is based on a classic Swedish tale by Tage Danielsson called Sagan om Karl-Bertil Jonssons julafton.
Okay, time to switch off the box and get to the dinner bit. Now I thought that in this cold, snowy climate we would have a hot dinner. But i was wrong again. When it snows, what could be more logical than to eat cold fish, ham and salad!
The Christmas buffet in Sweden is a smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of traditional delicacies. As in most smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbords, this is eaten in a particular order, beginning with fish.
This includes pickled herring (inlagd sill) with various sauces, beetroot and herring salad (sillsallad), cold cured salmon (gravad lax) with a mustard sauce, baked lutfisk (a north atlantic cod dried then soaked in lye!!!) with white sauce. This course would also have cold hardboiled eggs halved and topped with tiny prawns and caviar. And the potato dish would more than likely be Janssons Frestelse (a kind of creamy potato gratin with anchovies). You take a small selection of the fish dishes and return to the table. You then take a small glass of chilled aquavit (a kind of spiced vodka or snaps), sing the inevitable snaps song, throw it down in one gulp then begin to eat.
Once you have had enough fish (and snaps), we move on to the meat dishes. I can tell you that this dinner is heavily geared to pork and pork products, with barely a vegetable in sight. Though I've introduced quite a few since I've been here. A typical course would include Swedish meat balls, a special pork sausage called Julkorv that is boiled, a liver patÃ©, a cold pressed meat dish of potted meats in aspic (pressylta), little cocktail frankfurters called prinskorv and other seasonal dishes such as braised red cabbage. The centerpiece of the buffet is always a cold ham, Julskinka baked the day before with a crust of mustard and breadcrumbs, then refrigerated and cut into thin slices. Last year we also had moose - an unfortunate bit of road kill, that was frozen solid, slowly cooked in a barely warm oven for 12 hours, then soaked in a spiced water mixture in the fridge for several days. Again this was served in paper thin slices.
The favoured drink with all of these courses is either Julmust (that special soft drink I touched on in a previous post), a christmas beer or a strange mixture called Julmumma (a chilled mixture of beer, stout, madiera and cardommon).
There is no Christmas pudding here. Dessert is usually some of the biscuits and buns seen over advent, perhaps also an orange-saffron ice-cream (of course you eat icecream, it's only -17C after all!), a cheesecake with fruit sauce or (as in our family) a rice pudding. Most Swedish families top this with cinnamon and sugar, or a mixture of orange and whipped cream (Ris a la Malta).
But my husband, harking back to childhood memories wanted a fruit sauce that his (now deceased) father used to make. I scoured every Swedish cookbook and site I could find and there was no mention of this sauce. The recipe seems to have died with his father and I had almost given up hope when the answer occurred to me. Lars-GÃ¶ran was born in Finland! Of course, it must be a Finnish recipe! And sure enough, I found it at a Finnish site. It is not unlike a Syrian fruit salad I used to make. It is basically a blend of dried fruits, soaked overnight in a sugar/water mixture, then slowly simmered with a cinnamon stick. When done, the fruit is transferred to a bowl, the sauce is thickened with a little potato starch and poured over the fruit. Lars-GÃ¶ran declared "Hmm, now it smells like Christmas". That for me was the highlight of Christmas - being able to stir those childhood memories again for him.
After the dinner comes a period of rest, enjoying the Christmas tree decorated with tiny white lights, garlands of Swedish flags, and handmade straw ornaments.
This is suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door and Jultomten enters carrying a large sack of gifts. "Are there any good children here?" he asks. "Yes!" the children answer and Jultomten proceeds to hand out gifts (julklappar).
This is quite a different custom for me. In Australia, Santa comes while we are asleep on Christmas Eve and the gifts are opened Christmas morning. We never get to see him at all. But here, everybody sees tomten. My friend who lives in Kiruna told me that several people in her town who own reindeer are employed to come and visit homes in the town to distribute gifts. How exciting for the kids to see Santa and reindeer in the front garden. Mostly in Sweden it's dad or grandpa or big brother who dresses the part and distributes the gifts. Equal opportunity doesn't seem to get a look in here. I guess mum is too tired after all that Christmas cooking.
The other charming custom is that gifts have a special "Christmas Rhyme" on them. You don't just wrap the gift and bung on a store bought card that says "To Marie from Susan". You have to make up a funny rhyme that gives the person a clue about the gift. These rhymes are read out by tomten and everybody joins in the guessing game. While it can prolong the gift giving process, it is also a lot of fun. For example, if you give your nephew a book of cinema tickets you could write something cryptic like "it's dark and you'll be locked in, but don't worry, it's only for a couple of hours" or for an internet package, you could make a rhyme about surfing without waves, while sitting on a chair indoors. You get the idea.
After the gift giving it is time to head home. So that makes quite a busy day and evening.
No wonder there were only 35 people at midnight mass! I couldn't believe my eyes. In Australia we are packed in like the proverbial sardines for Christmas Eve mass, but in Sweden, while it was absolutely beautiful in the candle-lit church, the choir was magnificent, it was pretty much deserted. I guess they over-indulged and were sleeping it off.
That is something else that I find strange about Christmas in a country that is supposed to have such a strong Lutheran background. There is almost no mention ever made of the whole basis of the celebration. Maybe it's my catholic upbringing, but I do really miss that message of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards All Men. If we forget that, then really what is the point? It merely becomes just another excuse to party and overindulge.
I find it a little sad. But then maybe I'm just getting old!
Till next time!
Comments: Post a Comment
november 2003 december 2003 januari 2004 februari 2004 mars 2004 april 2004 maj 2004 juni 2004 juli 2004 augusti 2004 september 2004 oktober 2004 november 2004 december 2004 januari 2005 februari 2005 mars 2005 april 2005 maj 2005 juni 2005 juli 2005 augusti 2005 september 2005 oktober 2005 november 2005 december 2005 januari 2006 februari 2006 mars 2006 april 2006 maj 2006 juni 2006 juli 2006 augusti 2006 september 2006 oktober 2006 november 2006 december 2006
Ã‚Â« expat express Ã‚Â»
Click here to join