A Scandinavian Christmas - Part 1
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you would have to agree that the Scandinavians have a beautiful approach to the season. As my Swedish friend Susanna Bolander Oscarson, now residing with her family in Beijing always says, the Swedish love white, white and more white! Candles everywhere, a simple, fresh wreath on the door.
Interestingly Yanti and I have a number of good friends from this part of the world, so our next two blog posts will cover how our Danish, Norwegian and Swedish friends celebrate Christmas.
Aud le Cesne Byrne, now settled in California and married to an Irishman, raised her two teenage girls straddling the United States, Norway and Ireland. She still decorates her tree with Norwegian flags and says Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without this traditional cake, the tree-shaped Kransekake!
Susanna (Sweden) continues, “At this time of year we eat a lot of lovely gingerbread cookies. We love to bake them together with our kids. The house smells wonderful and you get into the Christmas feeling. We also bake saffron buns. There’s always a Christmas ”smörgåsbord” The smörgåsbord buffet contains more or less everything like ham, herring, salmon, eel, egg. Quite heavy food…but very good! We love to drink Glögg, (mulled wine) it makes us feel warm…with or without alcohol. Julmust is for our kids. It’s a softdrink made of water, sugar, hops, malt and spices.
Lucia is a great tradition in Sweden. On the morning of December 13th, Santa Lucia comes to visit us. She comes dressed in white with candles in her hair. Together with her companions, "stjärngossar", "pepparkaksgubbar" and "tärnor" she sings Christmas songs and spreads light and warmth on our dark and cold country. For Advent we light a candle every Sunday in December until Christmas Eve the 24th. We have four candles in our candle light holders. I love this tradition. "
Lisa Hilding, also from Sweden and now living in California with her family, adds “The tradition that first comes to my mind is baking gingerbread. When I was young I always used to make gingerbread with my Mother and my brother in early December. My Mother would make the dough the day before and let it rest in the fridge until the day after when we spent several hours making the sweet and spicy delicacy. We always used to make a gingerbread house as well. My Dad didn't bake the cookies with us but his job was to design the house pattern and then we cut out the pieces from the gingerbread dough (mind you, this was pre-computer times so everything was made on paper). Today I still make gingerbread with my kids every year in December, so the tradition lives on. “
A Danish jewelry and interior designer, Louise Strøe, previously featured on DoubleVision blog, comes from Denmark and has also raised her family in California. She tries to continue all the traditions she grew up with at home and describes them here:
“In early December we decorate the house with small red pigeon apples and oranges with cloves hanging in windows with red silk ribbon. We lay out lots of candles and fragrant freshly cut fir branches and make Christmas ornaments, white braided stars and paper hearts. The paper hearts can go on the Christmas tree and are filled with candy."
Louise explains with childlike delight: "In mid-December it is already time for Glögg - a Swedish red wine concoction - and æbleskiver (a small donut type of round pancake made in a special pan. It is time for baking butter cookies and spice cookies. vanillekranse, peberkager, brunkager etc.
A few days before Christmas or Christmas Eve's day you get a tree, freshly cut and fragrant. You decorate the tree with ornaments made by family members, kids, grandparents and other ornaments collected for years, you add strands of Danish flags, angels, elves and other curiosities. You place candleholders with slim white candles on straight branches. It's all a feast for the eyes.
The typical Christmas food is goose, duck, pork roast cooked with prunes and apples, sweet and sour red cabbage, caramelized potatoes, heavy creamy sauce, salad of endive and oranges or other individual family tradition dishes."
She continues: "Some families start the Christmas dinner with a hot rice porridge with a piece of butter and cinnamon sugar. Other families have a cold rice pudding with almonds (ris a l'amande) with hot cherry sauce for dessert. Either way, one whole almond is hidden in the rice and whoever finds it wins the almond prize, usually a nice chocolate-covered marzipan piece of candy, sometimes a book or a small trinket.
After Christmas dinner, the lights are turned off and the tree is lit. As the candles burn, the family dance around the tree and sing Christmas carols. After the dance, gifts will be exchanged and shared. Often carefully and beautifully wrapped, they are placed under the tree. Presents are admired and treasured.
When everyone feels warm and happy, a little too full from all the nice food and wine, with kids hyper from excitement and sugar, it is time for good night. Christmas morning is spent playing with new toys, reading new books and maybe washing a glass or two from the night before.
Christmas lunch is a concept in itself and can go on for days. Lots of food, herring, pickled and marinated or in a curry sauce. Smoked salmon, leverpaté, sausage, small meatballs (frikadeller), cold cut meat leftovers from Christmas dinner, pickles, Waldorf salad, Russian salad and many many other dishes are served. Lots of beer and schnapps. I adore this festive season."
Stories told to Wati.
Louise Strøe, cookiesbydesign.com, interiordesignfiles.com, Susanna Oscarson's own photos.