Bonne année! Gott Nytt År! Happy New Year!!
Hello everyone, and welcome to 2010. I have been hibernating these past few weeks so I apologize for my lack of writing, but I am back and ready to start this New Year on a productive note.
So to begin, yes, I have just returned from experiencing my first Swedish holidays and friends, I have to say, I’m hooked.
First off, the whole event of Christmas is completely and utterly amplified in Europe in general: markets, ferris wheels and decorations galore. While I found Göteborg to not be so over-the-top with the street décor and such (with the exception of Liseberg which is a winter wonderland) the traditions definitely proved that Sweden can be the capital of Christmas (after all, Santa Claus does live here, or is it Finland? Or both?…)
Tradition is alive in everything: from the food you eat to the spontaneous singing and drinking during dinner, the annual Disney extravaganza to the exchanging of gifts.
Being the only American and foreigner at this year’s festivities in Sweden with the boyfriend’s family, I definitely stuck out and I realized something: being an American abroad (or being anything abroad for that matter), you are almost expected to be an expert on your home country and the traditions and history that it holds.
I think I failed miserably at this task. As well as at trying to pick up a few of the Swedish traditions as well.
First, Christmas in Sweden is not really celebrated on December 25th, it is celebrated on our Christmas Eve, the 24th. It commences with a visit to church in the morning and then at around 13h00, dinner is served. Swedish Christmas dinner is a literal smörgåsbord of Swedish cuisine: sill, Christmas cheddar, julvort, köttbullar and beet sauce, pate, eggs and kalles kaviar, skinka, knäckebröd and shot after shot of snaps. Everything goes in a pattern of: eat, drink, sing, repeat.
This was all very exciting to me: the new variety of flavors and getting drunk as a tradition—very fun indeed (even though I need to work on my shot-taking skills, and need to acquire a taste for sill. I’m still working on that). I did have some troubles singing along to the chants and songs, but I am still beginner in this language, so I have to give myself a break there.
It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s mother turned to me and asked “what is Christmas dinner like in America?” did I realize either how little I knew about the U.S. or how totally random and weird my family is.
In my house growing up, we eat lasagna for dinner on Christmas Eve. We have it with salad that you buy in a bag from the grocery store, and that frozen garlic bread you just cut and stick in the oven for 5 minutes. We eat it sitting in front of the T.V. watching A Christmas Story and sometimes we will drink egg nog (the non-alcoholic version from Safeway).
Uhhhh, what kind of tradition is that? And what really is a typical American Christmas? I’m not sure if I really know…
Back in Sweden, we all gathered in the living room to watch Kalle Anka’s Christmas special after dinner. Kalle Anka (Donald Duck for the non-Swedes reading this) is a necessity for a Swedish Christmas. It is pretty much a compilation of the most classic Disney cartoons and films all wrapped into one hour-long display and while none of it has to do with Christmas at all really, it was a great treat of nostalgia for me.
At around 16h00 or 17h00, Dad steps out to “get the papers.” My boyfriend, his mother and I were sitting around the Christmas tree awaiting his return, when we were surprised by a knock at the door. Immediately the two shoot a glance in my direction, to see my reaction, and my heart skips a beat. Could it be? Is it really him? Tomten???
I crept to the door, and as I cracked it open, low and behold, SANTA was there. I’m telling you, I was 5 years old again and speechless in amazement. I was in the Christmas epicenter of Sweden and Santa was in our house.
“Haven’t you ever had Santa come to your house before?” my boyfriend asked.
Well, no. I mean, yes of course he comes at night when I am sleeping, and I’ve gone to see him at the mall and stuff. But I’ve never actually seen him in my house.
Santa went to work distributing the gifts to everyone, and this in itself was yet another form of tradition. In Sweden, creating special rhymes and riddles as Christmas cards makes the gift-giving process more fun and meaningful. Each present gets one and it is written to the receiver as a sort of “hint” as to what the gift is.
Yet again, I get the question of, “how do you do this in America?”
In America, we wake up at 6AM on Christmas Day and it is a mad dash to the Christmas tree to all tear open your gifts together. Sometimes my family and I will take turns opening, but sometimes things aren’t even wrapped—they are just placed under the tree because the “elves” ran out of time to wrap them.
After all the presents were handed out at our home in Sweden, Santa (Tomten) had to be on his way. So many other houses to visit that night! (It is my theory that Sweden celebrates Christmas a day earlier than the U.S. because Santa starts there (as he lives there) and then doesn’t get to America until later).
That evening it was more Christmas television specials with Svensson, Svensson and then it was time for porridge. Another customary Christmas food, porridge is eaten in the evening at the end of all the festivities, and the lucky one who finds the almond inside gets to make the wish. Well of course I forgot about that part and scarfed down my whole bowl, thinking that crunchy part was perhaps some uncooked grain and I should just swallow it whole to be polite. Everyone stared at me as I licked the last part clean, wondering where the “wish” they had so carefully planted in my portion had gone. Yeah, I had done so well up until then! Drinking the snaps, singing the songs, eating all the fish! And then I freaking ate the almond. Oh well, I guess there will be next year
Anyways, my stomach and soul is overflowing with julmust and glogg now. Pepparkakor are coming out my ears and I have gained at least 8 kilos. No joke.
I am completely satisfied an enthralled by the traditions of Sweden, but it has definitely made me wonder more about my home and my “culture.” America is such a mixture, a melting pot of all sorts of customs. I know there has got to be something other than lasagna on Christmas and material overindulgence out there.
I’m going to attempt to find something more back at home next holiday, and hopefully not end up eating the almond, or anything like that, in the process.