Sunday, December 17, 2006
Till alla från Linköping, Stockholm och överallt i Sverige-
Jul i Sverige är jättekul och din firande, från Lucia till vinglögg till den många ljusstaker på fönster, är mycket vacker. Jag tyckar om detta land så mycket, men under Jul, jag älskar din land (men, när jag kommer tillbaka från USA i Januari, jag vill se snö). Igen, jag tackar er för min "Välkommen" från er under min fem månad här i Sverige. Jag lämnar på tisdag till Seattle, så "vi ses nästa år!" Titta min blogg nästa vecka för något från min hem i USA.
10 words you must know to understand and appreciate Christmas in Sweden:
1. Glögg--a sweet-tasting Christmas drink similar to our cider, but, much like fika, glögg (pr. "glerg") is more anticipated, celebrated and ever-present during the Christmas season in Sweden. Non-alcoholic and, of course, alcoholic versions are widely available.
2. Pepparkakor--"Gingerbread Cookies" are as much a part of this season as Santa. Usually thin and heart-shaped, they are widely known to make you "sweet and nice" and therefore the more you have, the better. Highly recommended with glögg.
3. Lucia--Santa Lucia is the patron saint of light and her legacy is honored throughout most of Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden, during the calendar's darkest period on December 13th every year. A "Luciatåg" or "Lucia train" consists of the honorary Lucia wearing the crown of candles and a "train" of followers wearing white and holding candles singing to the delight of Swedes everywhere. The Lucia concert at the Domkyrkan Cathedral was truly something out of a fairy tale, almost angellic. See a picture above for a version of the Lucia celebration.
4. Ljusstake--Whereas Americans put Christmas lights on the roof or around the window or throughout the front yard, Swedes and Germanic Europeans in general have a refined acknowledgment of the season through lights, the "Ljusstake" in the window. See above for a picture of the Ljusstake, which is in virtually every window in Sweden this time of year, creating quite the festival of lights on facades of buildings.
5. Julbord--The Swedish smörgåsbord, Christmas style! More food and drink than you could ever imagine, buffet style, so tempering your appetite for multiple return visits is a must during a Julbord. See above for a Julbord picture.
6. Lussakatt--a special bread, widely available during fika, for this time of year. Similar to our saffron bread.
7. Julmarknad--"Christmas Markets" are the most popular community gatherings in Sweden this time of year. Besides the glögg and pepparkakor available around every turn, Julmarknads offer the best of Swedish handicraft and gifts perfect for, well, your Mom, and not too many other people.... See above for a picture of the Julmarknad in Gamla Stan's square in Stockholm.
8. Advent--The four Sundays before Christmas are known as Advent, which is recognized and celebrated in churches throughout America, but in Sweden is much more well-known among common culture. "Adventljusstake" is a very common item counting down the Sundays until Christmas.
9. Disney--You read that right, "Disney." Swedes and most Europeans do the majority of their gathering and celebrating of the season on December 24th. Every Christmas Eve Day at 3pm, the number of switched-on televisions supposedly equals that of switched-on Christmas trees as Swedes nationwide participate in their annual Christmas practice of watching Donald Duck (the lead Disney character in Sweden, not Mickey) for an hour, which I presume would make this the Super Bowl of television marketing in Sweden?
10. Snö. This fictional weather condition, "snow," used to grace the land during December, but Sweden hasn't seen a flake of snow since early November. If you have any extra, send it our way...
In a land where holidays and festivals are cherished, Sweden at Christmas does not disappoint. Music, lights, food, drink, community gatherings, "Julklappar" (Christmas gifts), public displays and decorations, celebrations both spiritual and cultural and yes, commercialism, are all a distinct part of the Swedish Jul season. Overall, much like my previous thoughts on "my" two countries, the differences are outshined by the similarities during this time of year.
I did observe however, that Sweden has a more refined, subtle and simple seasonal experience, but that is to be expected given my Linköping location and other well-known cultural differences between the U.S. and Sweden. Another significant difference is due the homogeneity of Sweden--there is virtually no public acknowledgment of other holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanza. And lastly, "Tomta" or Santa does not come down the chimney in the middle of the night when no one is watching, but comes to the door in the middle of the day when everyone is watching and asks, "Are there any good children around here?" He then proceeds to pass out all the gifts. And while I have not heard that Santa then partakes in fika, he is indeed offered glögg and pepparkakor!
I leave for home on Tuesday not to return until 2007, but watch for a State-side edition of Linköpinglivin next Sunday, Christmas Eve, when my Swedish friends will receive a small window into an American Christmas. And if you think you already know what an American Christmas is like, I will start with the declaration that not all of us celebrate like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, just some of us....
God Jul till alla i Sverige!