Old Time Christmas - in the 1800s

Old Time Christmas in Scandinavia – in the 1800s

CHRISTMAS is the greatest festival of Scandinavia. There are no holidays to which both young and old look forward with so much pleasure as to the days of yule -- days, which, in olden times, were also celebrated by the followers of Thor and Odin.

In the cities Christmas and the following days are legal holidays; but it is in the country that one should witness the rejoicings. In many districts of Sweden and Norway, among the peasants and farmers, these continue for thirteen days, and are called the "Tretten jule dage" (thirteen days of yule).

Then, after a week's interval, come --

"Tyvende dag Knut Danser julen ud."

("The twentieth day Canute Dances yule out.")

Old Time Christmas

This is the best time of the year for holidays -- the season in which the farmers have very little to do, and the monotony of the long winter needs to be broken. The grain has been threshed, and the products of the dairy sold. The labor to be done is that of laying in supplies of wood and hay, the carpenter and blacksmith work, mending the carts, and re- pairing harness and ploughs.

The dairy-work is lighter than in the summer, and the amount of butter is not more than enough for the use of the household; the women are busy in the daily routine of weaving, spinning, carding, and knitting.

During these old time christmas days visits are interchanged, and at almost every farm a feast or a dance is given, to which the neighbors are invited; the young devise frolics, and the time is considered auspicious for betrothal.

The more primitive the district the greater the festivities. Wherever I wandered, after the first week in December, I could see nothing but bustle and preparation for the holidays.

At this season - for an old time christmas - every household vessel of ancient times is brought out, together with strange old pottery, silver, and odd-shaped wooden vessels and spoons -- heirlooms of the family.

The stranger might well fancy, as he stands in a dimly lighted old log-house in a remote mountain region of Norway, and drinks skål (a health) from an ancient tankard, that he is among the Norsemen and Vikings of old: for many a chieftain, bold warrior, or hunter has drunk from the same cup; many a revel has taken place within the old walls; many a silver goblet has clinked against another while men who were the terror of many lands swore eternal friendship over their potations.

The same cup had also been used at many a marriage-feast, a christening, or a burial. Some of them are mounted with brass, others with silver or gold, and others, again, are gilded; some have Runic inscriptions, others have none; and some are so old that their history cannot be traced. A few of these cups have been found in the mounds, and others dug out of the earth.

Each hamlet and farm is busy for two or three weeks at preparations for the day of Old Time Christmas. Special care is taken in the brewing of jule öl (Christmas ale), which is stronger than that used at other times. A great part of the hops that have grown on the little patch by the house has been reserved specially for this occasion; or they have been bought long before, and carefully kept by the wife.

Such a quantity is brewed that there is no fear that it will give out before the festivities are over -- for every friend and visitor must partake of it, when offered in a large tankard or wooden cup holding a gallon or more.

The men go to the mills for more flour, and for several days mothers and daughters are busy baking, and girls who have the reputation of being good bakers are in great demand.

Homemade currant-wine -- if the berries grow in the district -- has been kept for the occasion. On the highways numerous carts are seen carrying little kegs of bränvin (spirituous liquor) homeward from the heads of fjords, or towns where it can be procured, a man having been specially sent to bring this with other luxuries.

For an old time Christmas the larder is well stocked; fish, birds, and venison are kept in reserve; the best spige kjöd (dry mutton, or either beef or mutton sausage) is now brought forward; a calf or a sheep is slaughtered, and, as the day draws near, wafers and cakes are made. The humblest household will live well at Christmas.

Old Time Christmas in Sweden

In many districts of Sweden the pastor receives the remainder of his tithes in the shape of flour, etc. A few years back one could see on Dopparedagen -- two days before Christmas -- the assistant pastor, the klockare (organist), and the kyrkvaktare (sexton) going round with large boxes, baskets, or bags, in which to put the tithes; but this custom now prevails only in remote districts, the system of tithes having been generally abolished.

The little country stores prepared for an old time Christmas carry on a thriving trade in coffee, sugar, prunes, raisins, and rice, for puddings; the girls buy trinkets and handkerchiefs for their heads, and the young men get a new hat or a scarf. At that time the servant men and girls of the farmers get the new clothes and shoes that are due them, and all wear their best on the holiday.

For an Old Time Christmas: The Christmas feeding of the birds is prevalent in many of the provinces of Norway and Sweden: bunches of oats are placed on the roofs of houses, on trees and fences, for them to feed upon. Two or three days before cart-loads of sheaves are brought into the towns for this purpose, and both rich and poor buy, and place them everywhere.

Large quantities of oats, in bundles, were on sale in Christiania, and everybody bought bunches of them. In many of the districts the farmers' wives and children were busy at that season preparing the oats for Christmas eve. Every poor man, and every head of a family had saved a penny or two, or even one farthing-to buy a bunch of oats for the birds to have their Christmas feast. I remember well the words of a friend of mine, as we were driving through the streets of Christiania; he said, with deep feeling,

"A man must be very poor indeed if he cannot spare a farthing to feed the little birds on Christmas-day!" What a pleasing picture it is to see the little creatures flying round, or perched on the thickest part of the straw and picking out the grain! It is a beautiful custom, and speaks well for the natural goodness of heart of the Scandinavian.

On this day, for an old time Christmas - on many a farm, the dear old horse, the young colt, the cattle, the sheep, the goats, and even the pig, get double the usual amount of food given them, and have so much that often they cannot eat it all.

The day before Christmas, in the afternoon, everything is ready -- the house has been thoroughly cleaned, and leaves of juniper or fir are strewn on the floor. When the work is done the whole family generally go into the bakehouse, which has been made warm, and each member takes a thorough wash from head to foot, or a bath in a large tub -- the only one many take during the year; then they put on clean linen, and are dressed.

In the evening they gather round the table, the father reads from the Liturgy, and oftener a chapter of the Bible, and then a hearty meal is taken. In many of the valleys and mountain-dales watch is kept during the whole of the night, and all are merry; candles are kept burning at the windows, and, as in Dalecarlia, the people flock to church, each carrying a torch.

In some districts, immediately after service, the people hurry from church either on foot or in sleighs, for there is an old saying that he who gets home first will have his crop first harvested.

-- from a book published in 1882.

Old Time Christmas