So This is Christmas…
Living in Sweden is the best of both worlds, the American holidays plus the Swedish traditions. There’s Halloween, uniquely American, which we celebrated by trick or treating around the offices of the American Embassy. Then Thanksgiving, a feast we celebrated with friends, a day focused on food and gratitude (what could be better?). And now Julbord, the Swedish Christmas table, from now until the end of Christmas.
Julbord is the feasting season, a smorgasbord served buffet style, three or four or more courses, beginning with small offerings, like bread and butter, cheeses, and cold cuts. Then heartier fare, fish: smoked salmon, eel, whitefish and pickled herring. Then ham, sausages, cucumbers and crisps (hard breads), meatballs, roasted pork ribs, potatoes, salads, and finally desserts: rice pudding, cookies and cakes.
You see why I joined a gym last month? I’ve worked out twice this weekend and on the advice of my Swedish friend, I’m skipping breakfast tomorrow morning because at 11:30 I’m attending my first Julbord. Swedes don’t do “light” anything. I’m expecting enough butter to satisfy even Paula Dean (although…what’s become of her?)
We’re gearing up for Christmas too. Like the Swedes we have candles in the window, strands of light hung outside along our balconies and illuminated stars (part of the St. Lucia tradition). I’ve also got two lanterns filled with white lights sitting in the entryway. Lanterns are sold all over Sweden. They’re extremely popular to have indoors and outdoors filled with candles. (The red lantern pictured on the table is from IKEA.) The glass enclosure is a practical way to protect the candlelight from the wind, but also extremely nostalgic, harking back to the days when Christmas was…well, simpler…when it was more or less about the family table, the gathering, the remembering of Christ.
We’ve tried to simplify this year. I think we’ve succeeded. There are no Black Fridays in Sweden, in fact the stores have kept to all their regular hours, meaning even if you wanted to Christmas shop on Saturday, you’d better get there before 6:00 pm when the shops and malls in Stockholm close. That’s right. And outside of Stockholm, the stores close at 4:00 pm. Our kids are getting a few gifts, not a big haul, not something more than a few rolls of Christmas wrapping can handle, socks and underwear (wouldn’t be Christmas without those), plus a few extras and fun things (we’re not heartless).
I get the sense that Christmas gift giving in Sweden is important but not all consuming, not high-consumer consuming. It’s not particularly religious either, but very traditional, filled with rituals, spending time together with family and friends.
Like the Julbord tables, there are things Swedes do only this time of year, like drinking Julmust, their annual holiday soda. Julmust outsells Coke 2:1 during the month of December. Can you imagine a drink this popular not being sold year round in America? You can buy it during the Christmas season and again at Easter (then it’s called Paskmust). If you ask me, it tastes like root beer, Dr. Pepper and NyQuil mixed together. Not my favorite, but not the worst drink either.
I like mixing traditions, adapting the more understated Christmas, the relaxed pace of the season. I’m not bargain hunting or searching for the latest greatest–that doesn’t exist here and if it does my kids don’t know about it, we don’t have TV.
I do like being in the city visiting the shops after they close and the crowds dissipate. Here’s some views from this weekend…
However you celebrate the season, it’s a good time of year, a break from school and work (for most of us), a change of the day to day schedules we live by. I’ll be baking my usual biscotti along with the Swedish pepperkaker–similar to gingerbread. If I don’t feel like making the dough, I can buy it at IKEA. Maybe you can too? Maybe we can all put a little Swedish into our Christmas traditions.