Swedish Christmas Eve

Swedish Christmas Eve

To the Swedes, Christmas, more than any other holiday, is the time for sentiment and joy. Stored feelings come out in the open and the freedom to express what is in the heart is joyously embraced. No one need fear being considered emotional or sentimental, because everybody is prompted by the same feeling. This release of emotions makes for a warmer companionship, and at no other time of year, perhaps, are there such gratifying attachments formed as at Christmas. The formality is put on the shelf and the Christmas spirit takes over.

To the children the anticipation is almost unbearable. They count the days - the day before the day, before the day . . . until at last the day itself arrives, Christmas Eve.

Swedish Christmas Eve

That is the day of climax in Sweden, not Christmas Day. Weeks of scrubbing, weeks of baking, weeks of cooking terminate with this day. The house smells Christmas! The kitchen is trimmed with frilled paper streamers in red and white.

The Christmas tree is brought inside and with it fresh air and a scent of pine. The children flock around father as he puts the star at the top of the tree and mother searches through the boxes for the familiar trimmings.

Flags from foreign countries as well as the blue and yellow flag of Sweden are fastened, and it becomes a jolly game to try to remember which country is represented by the different flags. And the frilly candy decorations! A vision of fringed tissue paper in bright colors comes to mind and clumsy fingers trying to fasten narrow gold strips.

Swedish Christmas Eve

It was the children's task to make these decorations, but that which should go inside the paper caramels, gumdrops, or other sweets often landed in the mouths of the "decorators." Last of all the small candles were fitted into the wire holders and an apple placed on the hook below to give weight and balance. And each year it was the most beautiful Christmas tree that anyone had ever seen.

Swedish Christmas Eve

In the kitchen busy hands had been stirring since early morning. Dopp i gryta is in the making. The expression means dip in the pot, and involves a ceremony. But first to the ingredients. In the large kettle a ham bubbles and boils, and as the hours advance the sausages are added, such as potato sausage, cream sausage, pork sausage, and sometimes a piece of rolled meat, called rullsylta. The broth, smooth and shiny with fat, gains in strength and substance. When the ham is cooked through, it is removed and rubbed with brown sugar and mustard and studded with cloves. After a brief glazing in the oven, the ham is ready and the meal can be announced.

The time is generally twelve or one o'clock and the table is set in the kitchen, even though the house may have ample room for dining elsewhere. Dopp i gryta must for all practical reasons be eaten in the kitchen. Serving the meal buffet style facilitates the procedure, or ceremony, in front of the stove where members of the household now gather to dip their bread in the pot or gryta, that is, in the hot broth.

This custom goes back to pagan days, it is told, when the vikings at the time of the winter solstice, and dreary with the darkness, sacrificed to the sun by fasting, that is, refraining from eating meat and making a meal of bread and broth only. One can assume that the thick broth yielded enough strength for husky bodies to endure until the sun god was appeased and began his journey back.

For modem consumption the meal, with meat, is satisfactory indeed, and washed down with dark, foamy Christmas ale leaves nothing to be desired for a while.

Swedish Christmas Eve

At the coffee table later on, all the seven kinds of cookies are brought forth, tasted, and commented upon, while the children hang around wondering if jultomten (Santa Claus) will ever come. Eventually he does arrive, dragging his sack with him, filled with Christmas presents. "Finns det några snilla barn här?” (Are there any nice children here?) he asks. Are there ever any but nice children at Christmas?

So begins the distribution of gifts and within minutes the room is a sea of billowing tissue paper and bulky wrappings. If the family is one of adults, it is customary to prepare humorous rhymes for each package, and the reading of these verses furnishes added enjoyment to the moment of giving. Jokingly it is said of many a Swedish writer that his talent was discovered by his rhymes on Christmas gifts.

Swedish Christmas Eve

Elaborate wrapping paper has caught up with Sweden but people who keep to old traditions use brown paper and red sealing wax. The procedure of heating the wax over a candle flame, letting it drip down on the knots of string, and then stamping one's own seal on it to make an imprint, was a fascinating ritual.

And the mood and atmosphere of Christmas, by Swedes called julstämning, is surely at hand when someone in the house begins sealing his or her Christmas presents. The fragrance of the melting wax makes everyone aware that the awaited moment soon will come.

Swedish Christmas Eve

The final meal on a Swedish Christmas Eve is by tradition lutfisk and risgrynsgröt (rice porridge), preceded by a light smörgåsbord.

Lutfisk has lost popularity, but it hangs on in some families that like the old traditions.

To those who are introduced to Swedish customs by marriage, the eating of lutfisk is said to be the most trying. The very smell of it is enough, they say. Many a resolute mother-in-law has hit upon the idea of boiling the fish ahead of time or in a closed off basement room, and has succeeded in convincing her newly won son or daughter that with a generous amount of cream sauce, melted butter, salt, and pepper it is not bad at all!

If fish it must be . . . "Gröt" is easier to take, however, and if the one single almond, which a pot of rice must contain, happens to land in the plate of the in-law, the evening is made. He or she will be rich and prosperous during the coming year, says the myth.

Should the almond turn up in the plate of a single person, it means marriage within the year.

At last the most important day of Christmas comes to a close and a weary but happy housewife sighs and anticipates the morrow when nothing but rest is in store for her.

There is no big dinner to prepare and seldom any company to fuss for. Christmas Day is the first day after several weeks of intense work that she can relax, and she depends on her family to bring the ham and the sausages and the bread on the table, knowing that there is food enough for the keenest of appetites.

But first she must summon her waning strength for an early rise for julotta (Christmas service) — Where is the alarm clock?

Swedish Christmas Eve - Swedish Christmas Traditions

Swedish Christmases evoke fond memories of delicious homemade breads and pastries, simple and beautiful wreaths and ornaments, and handmade crafts fashioned by the fire on a snowy day.

Here readers will learn how to bring those warm traditions into their own homes, wherever they live. Included are instructions to make mulled wine, homemade peanut brittle, red candied apples, crisp pepparkakor, lightly browned Swedish meatballs, candles, wreaths, and more.

Each recipe and project are accompanied by beautiful full-color photographs. From fashioning centerpieces to baking delicious cookies to hand-making Christmas tree ornaments, this book will inspire readers to rediscover the joys of a Scandinavian Christmas.

100 color photographs

Swedish Christmas Eve

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