Immigrant women put Tensta Christmas market on the map

Immigrant women put Tensta Christmas market on the map
Immigrant women in the Stockholm suburb of Tensta are using language lessons and handicrafts to stitch together an alternative Christmas market experience for the entire Swedish capital, The Local's Clara Guibourg discovers.

It may seem far off yet, but Sweden’s holiday season is approaching rapidly.

For many the best way to brighten up Sweden’s dark months is through a visit to one of the many Christmas markets arranged around the country to stock up on gifts and grab a mug of warm, sweet glögg to keep them toasty before heading back out into the seemingly endless winter night.

But for Stockholm residents looking for an alternative to the traditional Swedish Christmas markets that peddle pricey saffron and tree decorations, a market being held this Saturday in the Stockholm suburb of Tensta might be just what the doctor ordered.

The market is being arranged by Livstycket, a non-profit group that mixes language classes with craft work and design to help immigrant women overcome their isolation as newcomers to Swedish society.

The organization describes itself as a design and knowledge centre. Immigrant women, some of whom are illiterate, come here to learn to speak, read and write Swedish.

Livstycket’s premises aren’t the easiest to find. From the outside, a few signs in the window advertise the centre’s presence, just across from Tensta’s lively vegetable market.

Once inside however, Livstycket proves to be just as lively as the market.

Sewing machines are whirring rapidly in the colourful workshop, a new pattern has just been completed and printed, and a peek inside one of the classrooms reveals a reading class has just started.

In the process, the women, many of whom have had a hard time finding their place in Swedish society, find meaningful work in the creative workshops where the organization’s uniquely patterned clothes and products are made.

The patterns have been exhibited to critical acclaim at the Nordic Museum and exclusive boutique Svenskt Tenn, but for Livstycket’s founder Birgitta Notlöf, the work begins and ends with the Swedish language.

“The language is everywhere. We use the workshops as an opportunity to practice Swedish. It can be hard to pick up the language when only sitting at a desk. In a classroom, teachers usually end up doing most of the talking,” she tells The Local.

“Language has to come alive. When we use it in the workshop the students get a chance to really own their language,” she adds, explaining that many women who come to Livstycket have previously spent years studying the Swedish language through Swedish for immigrants (Svenskundervisning för invandrare – SFI) classes, but without getting very far.

Livstycket opened in 1992, and has held Christmas markets for almost as many years. And almost from the start, the markets proved hugely popular.

For many Stockholmers, a visit to this market marks their first time in suburb Tensta, way out on the subway’s blue line, where 8 out of 10 residents are immigrants.

Some see Tensta as evidence that Stockholm is in some ways a segregated city, a view Notlöf would like to see change.

“That’s kind of the idea. We want people to meet,” she says, adding that this year the market’s theme is “Putting Tensta on the map”.

In line with this, Livstycket’s newest pattern is a map of Stockholm which will be sold at the Christmas market.

Classes at Livstycket have also had a Stockholm theme all autumn.

“If you live in Stockholm – and Tensta is Stockholm, too – you have to get to know your city,” says Notlöf.

Students have been on several field trips to get to know different parts of their home city, and all 100 of Livstycket’s students have then participated in drawing Stockholm landmarks, which together form the pattern.

For Notlöf, this is partly about getting a perspective on the place where one lives, but it’s also a way to improve one’s self-confidence.

“From being someone who doesn’t speak Swedish, and doesn’t have a shot of getting a job, you suddenly know something, you’ve been part of creating something. Your status changes,” she explains.

Apart from the new “Stockholm by Livstycket” pattern, the reading book “We drink tea and learn e” (“Vi dricker te och lär oss e”), made for illiterate people by formerly illiterate Livstycket students, is expected to be a big seller.

The Livstycket Christmas market also tends to draw a big crowd, so people thinking about visiting should arrive early.

“We try to count how many visitors we have every year,” says Notlöf, “but we always end up losing track.”

Livstycket’s Christmas market will be held Saturday, November 26th, between 11am – 3pm. Tenstagången 20, subway stop Tensta on the blue line towards Hjulsta.

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