• Sweden edition
 
December in Sweden: From candle-head girls to jellied veal

December in Sweden: From candle-head girls to jellied veal

Published: 01 Dec 2009 12:54 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Dec 2009 12:54 GMT+01:00

By now it’s getting hard to share a seat on buses — the plump down jackets people use to keep out the cold increase personal volume considerably. The front corridor at the daycare centre is a mountain of children’s jump suits, and getting kids clothed and unclothed is an interminable operation. Christmas trees have been up in town squares for two weeks.

The Nobel ceremonies are held in Stockholm on the 10th. The daytime presentation from the hands of the monarch is followed by a gala banquet in the ornate City Hall. A live broadcast blends gossip and erudition, with comments on dresses and celebrity cleavage intermixed with pithy explanations of achievements in physics, medicine and economics. Alfred Nobel himself would enjoy the evening; he liked the good life in Paris and San Remo and the company of attractive women. But, painfully shy, he needed a topic of conversation and peace was his favourite. The City of San Remo, Italy, where Nobel spent his last years and where he died on 10 December 1896, sends truckloads of flowers each year for the ceremonies.

December is party time, often centred on the sticky, sweet mulled wine known as glögg and ginger biscuits. Glögg combines red wine, spirits and spices, taken in tiny glasses or cups into which you spoon raisins and blanched almonds. A little goes a long way. Glitter is optional, but ambitious hosts decorate the doorstep with fir branches.

December is also a month of lights, electric or otherwise. High-rise office windows display electric versions of the Advent candles. Big paper stars like Japanese lanterns hang in apartment windows. Private parties signal their location with thick candles in tins outside entrances. Light therapy challenges the demon darkness. The first word Swedish children learn is often lampa (lamp or light).

St. Lucia Day on the 13th replaces an ancient celebration of the winter solstice, when barnyard animals were said to be able to talk to each other and the long winter was halved. St. Lucia was believed to have lived in Sicily. Some say that when a saint saved Lucia’s sick mother from death, Lucia abandoned marriage plans and gave her dowry to the poor. Her fiancé took her to court and she was sentenced to a brothel but a thousand men, using oxen, could not drag her in. The modern custom involves angelic girl children dressed in white, although there is a role for Staffan the Stable boy, the comic relief. The white-robed children sing while lights dim and candles flicker. The custom came from nostalgic Swedish colonies in America a century ago and originally mandated a crown of lit candles in a blonde little sweetheart’s hair, predictably risk-filled in a milling crowd of excited kids.

Winter solstice on the 21st is when the country breathes a deep sigh of relief: finally, we can at least imagine light at the end of the tunnel! In Stockholm, office commuters might miss sun-up at about 8:30 am and certainly miss sundown at around 2:45 pm. They’re still lucky — up above the polar circle in the city of Kiruna, for example, it’s pitch black for about three weeks in mid-winter. Sweden is in the west-wind belt with chiefly southwesterly or westerly winds. The frigid winds of the Russian steppes seldom intrude.

Christmas and most other important holidays are celebrated on the eve. Christmas Day is for relaxing, except for whoever is preparing the smörgåsbord. The dishes are based on simple country fare — a way of gourmandizing while remaining down-to-earth. Staples include ham, pickled herring, jellied veal, boiled ling, beetroot and herring salad, and the essential meatballs, all washed down with snaps and sweet Christmas beer or a mixture of stout, port and lemonade. Then finish up with rice porridge. Phew!

Does bathwater run down the drain counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the south? Fact: reindeer corralled in December will always run counterclockwise. Reindeer are also the only deer species where both males and females have horns. (Insert your own joke here about gender equality in Sweden.)

Come quarter to midnight on New Year’s Eve, the nation’s current favourite actor will be found breathing mist into the cold night air at a folklore heirloom, the outdoor museum at Skansen in Stockholm. As television lights flare, with the background a sky of pyrotechnical colour, the actor clears his throat. Then, as every year since the 1920s, the actor reads a poem written by the Englishman, Alfred Tennyson: “Ring out the old, ring in the new / Ring, happy bells, across the snow / The year is going, let him go
 / Ring out the false, ring in the true.” And ring in longer days.

The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Woman suffers cardiac arrest while giving birth
Photo: Tomas Oneborg/TT

Woman suffers cardiac arrest while giving birth

A 30-year-old woman went into cardiac arrest while giving birth at a Stockholm clinic - without hospital staff noticing that anything was wrong. She remains in a critical condition on Friday. READ  

Champions League
History repeats for Malmö fifty years later
Striker Magnus Eriksson during Malmö's 3-0 win over Salzburg in a Champions League qualifier. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

History repeats for Malmö fifty years later

Malmö's entry into the Champions League serves as a reminder of times gone by in European football. With Spain's champions bound for Sweden things just couldn't be better, writes contributor Lee Roden. READ  

Elections 2014
Löfven promises jobs to 50,000 young Swedes
Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Löfven promises jobs to 50,000 young Swedes

Social Democrat party leader Stefan Löfven announced on Friday his "most important election promise", a 90-day job guarantee programme for young Swedes. READ  

 Sweden to buy fighter jets despite Swiss pullout
The Jas Gripen fighter aircraft. File photo: Wikimedia

Sweden to buy fighter jets despite Swiss pullout

Sweden said Friday it would go ahead with the purchase of a new generation of Saab Gripen fighter jets, despite Switzerland pulling out of a major co-financing deal. READ  

Three hurt after northern knife attack

Three hurt after northern knife attack

Three people are in hospital after they were stabbed during what police suspect was a gang-related attack in Umeå. READ  

Stockholm 'thief' turns out to be trainee ninja

Stockholm 'thief' turns out to be trainee ninja

Stockholm police rushed to the scene when a worried Swede reported that their neighbours were the victim of a break-in - but when officers arrived, they found nothing but a ninja in the middle of practice. READ  

Elections 2014
Liberals hint at bringing back conscription
Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Liberals hint at bringing back conscription

With Russia becoming "all the more aggressive", the Liberal Party leader and education minister, Jan Björklund, has suggested that Sweden may have to reintroduce conscription. READ  

Swede mauled in bear hunt gone wrong

Swede mauled in bear hunt gone wrong

Roles were reversed in a bear hunt on Thursday night, when a Swedish hunter was attacked by his prey, leaving the man in hospital in a serious condition. READ  

How immigration became a key election issue
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

How immigration became a key election issue

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt sparked a furore with recent comments that put rising refugee costs in focus before the elections. But why did he bring it up, and will it affect the outcome? READ  

 Saab carmaker fails in bid for receivership
Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Saab carmaker fails in bid for receivership

A Swedish court has rejected a request from the Chinese-owned automaker NEVS, which owns the financially-troubled Swedish brand Saab, to be placed in receivership until it could attract new financing. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
People-watching August 27
Gallery
Top ten false friends in Swedish
National
Roma advocate scoops Wallenberg prize
Society
Meet the man who made a Swedish store recall its high heels for kids
Business & Money
'How I came to run my own business in Sweden'
Blog updates

25 August

Hit och dit, här och där (The Swedish Teacher) »

" Hej igen! A common challenge for Swedish language students are the location adverbs hit/här, dit/där, hem/hemma etc. Some of the location adverbs come in two versions. We should use one type of location adverb when we use a verb describes where we are, and we should use the other type of location adverb when we the verb..." READ »

 

25 August

The Dollar Store (Blogweiser) »

"A dollar store in Sweden. Blog post: http://t.co/tNuuvcP1q0 #USD #greenbacks #sweden #sverige pic.twitter.com/RHFAYf7U1k — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) August 23, 2014 There’s a chain here in Sweden called The DollarStore. This name always stood out to me in a country where they don’t use dollars. I went there for the first time this weekend. They actually accepted greenbacks..." READ »

 
 
 
Politics
Expert explains why Sweden's election oozes uncertainty
National
City plays Schindler's List theme at Nazi rally
Society
For Stockholm Fashion Week, here's the A-Z of Swedish fashion
National
'Amnesiac' man avoids deportation for ten years
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Swedish city all set for six-hour workday trial
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Gallery
People-watching August 22-24
National
Armed royal guards caught (very) drunk on the job
National
Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination
Gallery
Violent anti-Nazi demonstrations in Malmö
Society
A closer look at Sweden's five official minority languages
Gallery
See the destruction from the southern Sweden floods
Politics
'Sweden Democrats hold the key to elections'
Society
Swedes celebrate first day of smelly fish season
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching August 20th
Society
Did you know the Bronx in NYC was named after a Swede?
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

753
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se