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Swedish christmas

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Christmas is the darkest period of the year in Scandinavia, and the season could be depressing except for the light from Advent candles in the windows and the smell of fresh-baked bread. The six-week long Yuletide season ends with a three-day holiday from December 24th through the 26th.

On December 13th the festivities of Lucia Day begin early in the morning, with costumed children bringing their parents breakfast in bed. A daughter is dressed as Santa Lucia in a white gown with red ribbon sash. There is a crown of candles on her head (usually electric these days) and she carries a tray with a pot of tea, a pitcher of milk, pepparkakor (spiced cookies) and lussekatter (Lucia cats, saffron buns studded with raisins). Her brother(s) follow, dressed in a starboy costume: a long white gown, cone-shaped paper hat embellished with gold stars that gleam like the star on the wand he holds.

In Sweden there are Lucia processions in schools, hospitals, offices, factories and even on SAS planes. The most spectacular takes place in Stockholm where the city's Lucia is crowned by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. There is something moving, almost mystical, about the Lucia procession with the young people with their candles, their voices solemnly singing in the heavy silence of the winter night and the arrival of the light-clad saint. Symbolizing the light of faith and the promise of the sun's return, Santa Lucia has become a Swedish icon of winter. Variations of the celebration can be traced through Swedish history to the Middle Ages and beyond to the 4th century martyrdom of a Sicilian virgin named Lucia.

The most important event is Christmas Eve when families gather for the smörgåsbord which is usually the most lavish meal of the year. It begins with fish, especially herring: herring in cream sauce, herring in dill, herring in mustard sauce, herring in sherry, herring that is fried and then pickled. Served with the herring are boiled potatoes and rye crisps. Other fish dishes are smoked salmon and gravlax - salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill. And of course, there is lutfisk, cod cured in lye, served in white sauce with boiled potatoes and peas.

The centerpiece of the Julbord is the Julskinka, the Christmas ham, which takes days to prepare. First it is cured in salt and on December 23rd it is boiled for several hours with the Christmas sausage; the ham is left in the broth overnight in a cold place. The next morning the ham is removed from the broth, dried, coated with a blending of egg and mustard, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked at a high temperature so that it acquires a brown crust.

Other items served at the Julbord are leverpastej, paté made with liver and anchovies; köttbullar (meatballs); revbensspjäll (oven-roasted pork ribs); and Janssons Frestelse (a briny potato, anchovy and cream casserole). Side dishes served are inlagd rödbetor (red beet salad), red cabbage and more boiled potatoes.

For dessert there is risgrynsgröt, Christmas Porridge, a creamy rice pudding served with sugar and cinnamon, or lingonberry jam. A single almond is hidden in the pudding; according to tradition, whoever finds the almond in his/her portion will be wed during the coming year. On Christmas Eve a dish of rice pudding is put out for the hus tomte - the house gnome. According to legend, each farm had its own tomte, usually portrayed as a tiny man with a white beard and red stocking cap, who lived with his family in the barn or under the house. If treated properly, the tomte would help the farmer with the animals, but if neglected, he could cause trouble.

Excerpts from the Internet

June Pelo


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