• 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

Neo-Nazi attacks
Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian
Police intervene after neo-Nazis attack an anti-Nazi rally in Kärrtorp, December 2013. Photo: Hampus Andersson/TT

Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian

A Stockholm court has cleared three neo-Nazis of stabbing a Nigerian man in an unprovoked attack. But two of the men will face jail after they were convicted of racial agitation at a riot. READ  

Julian Assange
Assange court ruling expected on Monday
Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in the UK. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Assange court ruling expected on Monday

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can expect the next court ruling on his case to take place on Monday October 27th in Stockholm. READ  

Politics
Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at an EU summit in Brussels this week. Photo: TT

Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'

Sweden is set to get 1.2 billion kronor ($168 million) back from the EU on December 1st, according to leaked EU documents which suggest that other European countries will have to make large top-up payments this year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

991
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
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN