Our experience of a Swedish Christmas.
Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook
16 January 2021
We have just completed our first Christmas in Sweden. And it even snowed on Christmas Day. Given that Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve here, we spent the 25th walking around the snowy neighbourhood, thoroughly enjoying our White Christmas.
One of the marvellous things about Sweden is their Christmas lights and, a walk around the neighbourhood, is the perfect way to admire them. While some are coloured, the vast majority are yellow, warm lights outlining the houses. The lights come out in late November so we’ve had a lot of time to look at them as we regularly walk the dogs around the block.
Rather than turkey and trimmings, on Christmas Eve the Swedish have a jul bord which is a sort of special Christmas buffet meal with lots of fish and meat. We had one a week before Christmas at a restaurant not far from us where the South African chef explained all of the dishes to us. It’s not the sort of thing the chef usually does but his English was better than anyone else and he knew what he’d cooked.
On Christmas Eve, we prepared and ate our own jul bord. There were a couple of types of pickled herring, various meats, Swedish meatballs, and a lovely baked thing called Jansson’s Temptation.
Jansson’s Temptation is possibly named after a 19th century, Swedish opera singer, Pelle Janzon, who apparently really loved his food. Mind you, there is a lot of dispute over this. Pelle being the son of a fishmonger could explain the fact that Jansson’s Temptation has anchovies in it.
What makes Swedish meatballs, Swedish? For a start, they are quite small. Small is best because they cook quickly. They also contain a very special spice mix called Grill Spice. And then there’s the cream which makes them succulent. And they should be served on mash potatoes. They are delicious. Particularly with lingonberry jam squirted over the top.
The oddest thing though, is the lack of a traditional dessert. This is particularly odd in a country where cinnamon buns are an essential part of life. Not that we had any room left for dessert. Instead, we had rice pudding for breakfast on Christmas Day. Another very Swedish thing.
Possibly the best part of the festive season, though, is December 13, Santa Lucia Day.
Because of the current situation, we didn’t get to see a traditional parade with a young Santa Lucia wearing a crown of candles and a white gown but there were still little signs. On the day, for instance, we drove out to the island café we frequent every Sunday and the highway was lined with little spirit lamps. There were hundreds of them, lighting the way.
That’s the thing. Young Lucia with her candles, brings us the promise of longer days and shorter nights. In Scandinavia, it’s good to know that things are only going to get brighter as the year rolls on.
Then, on January 13, it all comes to an end with St Knut’s Day or, as it’s called more widely, the Toss the Tree out the Window Day. This marks the end of the Christmas season when the children dance around the stripped of decorations tree and it all comes to an end. Until next December when Santa Lucia lights the way once more.
We loved our Swedish Christmas and hope it will be the first of many more to come.