It was the opening of the Swedish Church’s Christmas Fair on Wednesday night. This is the start of the Christmas season for me, and I really enjoyed wandering around with a glass of warm glögg, chatting to familiar faces and picking up some Advent candles, Advent calendars and quite a few items of Swedish Christmas food. Everything is beautifully displayed and the sales ladies wear the pretty traditional costumes from different regions in Sweden. There are gorgeous hand-knitted items and beautiful woven textiles.
Fancy a tomte?
I went back again yesterday to meet some friends for lunch and have an open sandwich and a saffron bun and it was packed. I imagine it will be even more packed at the weekend but there is a very warm, happy atmosphere and it is a great spot for Christmas gifts and decorations. There are also lots of chidren’s books by Swedish favourite, Elsa Beskow- the illustrations are wonderful.
Crisp bread and ginger snaps
The Swedish Church Christmas Fair is open from 11am-7pm on Saturday and from 12-5pm on Sunday
It’s the time of year for gingerbread baking- hugely popular in Scandinavia. I have now done two rounds of pepparkakor baking with my daughter- we must have about 30 shapes including all the Moomin family!
Yesterday we made did a gingerbread house- well we cheated as I bought a flatpack from the very handy Danish shop, Tiger (also great for stocking fillers). There is still lots of scope for creativity. Here is the result of our efforts- later on we found a little tomte to make the journey up the path to his house…
The longest day of the year has now passed and the nights are gradually growing darker which will please those who struggle with the light pouring into their bedrooms bright and early in the morning.
Midsummer night is one of the biggest party evenings of the night in Sweden- with traditional Scandi food and lots of schnapps accompanied by silly schnapps songs. On Midsummer Day, villagers dance round the maypole, and girls wear National dress with crowns of freshly picked summer flowers on their heads.
We had a little Midsummer dinner party in London, and I christened my new Danish Georg Jensen pyramid cutlery. My friend made delicious toast Skagen- toast with prawns, mayonnaise, dill and lojrom (orange whitefish roe)- completely divine with champagne. The schnapps flowed; am not a frequent schnapps drinker and concluded the OP and Skåne varieties were my favourites; others are definitely extremely medicinal…
Christmas Eve is the day, like most of Continental Europe, in which Christmas is celebrated in Sweden, and the big meal is enjoyed in the evening. Having celebrated Swedish Christmas on the 24th and English Christmas on the 25th, I am recovering today! I have to say that I am a big fan of the Swedish Jul bord Christmas smorgasbord- there is something for everyone and you can return again as often or as little as you please. There are several types of pickled herring, crisp bread and cheese, smoked salmon and home cured gravadlax, this is accompanied by snaps and in my family’s case white wine too; next comes the meat- meatballs, a big ham, spare ribs and little sausages. You do get a few vegetables too: cooked red cabbage and beetroot salad is traditional as well as potatoes (all seasonal of course). One of my favourite dishes is Jansson’s Temptation- a sort of potato dauphinoise with anchovy: delicious served piping hot from the oven. Pudding is a rice porridge- with an almond hidden inside- whoever gets it in their bowl can make a wish.
Afterwards we sit by the fire drinking coffee and eating gingerbread. The Jultomte (Father Christmas arrives with the presents, and afterwards we sing a few carols. Candles and straw decorations are in abundance and I love it all! God Jul och Gott Nytt År!
Baking pepparkarkor (gingerbread) is an essential part of Scandinavian Christmas. Pepparkarkor in the form of bells, hearts and men are often strung up with red silk ribbon and hung on Christmas trees or elsewhere as decoration. My husband and I made a gingerbread house today with rosemary added as pine trees- a cute addition to the Christmas table!
I also made some gingerbread tomte place names for our Jul bord (Christmas table) on Christmas Eve. Tomtar in Sweden, tonttu in Finland or Nisse in Norway and Denmark are Christmas elves who appear in abundance during the Christmas season. They will pop up everywhere in various forms if you happen to be in Scandinavia during Advent and Christmas.
Today is Sankta Lucia day, a major day in the Swedish calendar and the day, in my view, that is most beautifully celebrated. Saint Lucia (Lucy), who in the fourth century tended to the persecuted Christians in Syracuse, is the patron saint of light and before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar her feast day fell on the longest, darkest day of the year. The Swedes, with their long dark days, adopted Lucia as their own in the late eighteenth century and started to celebrate light in mid-winter.
Now every school, hospital, church in Sweden celebrates Lucia. A young girl dressed in a white robe and a red sash and wearing a crown of candles upon her head lights up her surroundings accompanied by maidens and star boys singing beautiful melodies. Even Nobel prize winners are not spared Lucia as she wakes them at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, with coffee and glowing Lussekatter (saffron buns).I have just been to a celebration of Lucia at St.Paul’s Cathedral, and it was stunning to have the lights dimmed, and watch as a young girl lit by candles glided up the magnificent long aisle followed by a gentle train of ethereal choristors bearing candles to light their way..
A few days ago, I attended a Viking Club dinner (no, I am not kidding and no, not everyone had two horns on their head). It was in fact a salubrious affair held in the very grand and elegant Carlton Club in St.James’. The Carlton Club is a conservative club and our dinner was presided over by portraits of Thatcher, Cameron and Churchill (a notably good one of Churchill). Ironically enough, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the club did not allow women members so they rather swiftly had to change their rules.
It was, I believe, the first time since the 1920s that Bärsärkar & Vikingar (literally translated as Berserkers and Vikings) allowed women to join in one of their illustrious dinners. BV was founded in London in 1885 and is a mens’ only club; nearly all the members are Swedish with a few other Scandis thrown in, and they meet six times a year for a big, ceremonial dinner in one of London’s many beautiful buildings; they eat well, drink lots of snapps and sing heartily. The society has rankings- you could be a herdman (quite senior) or a träll (ie a serf and rather less senior…); you get medals according to your rankings. All a bit bonkers but fun! I was a norna to my husband- I gathered from the well-informed Danish chap next to me that norna is Old Norse for woman of your destiny (It could be worse). I had a good night and hope that this inclusion of women at BV will become an annual thing.
Happy Valborg! The First of May is an important date in the Swedish calendar- winter is officially over and spring is welcomed. On Valborgmässoafton, the eve of Valborg ie 30th April, Swedes literally burn out winter by having huge bonfires and celebrate the start of spring with much merriment involving a lot of booze, dancing and drinking songs.
I went to a rather civilized Valborg celebration last night, organised by the Anglo Swedish Society, at the Savile Club in Mayfair. We couldn’t really start having huge bonfires in the heart of London but we did enjoy a lot of champagne and schnapps plus a good dinner in the beautiful eighteenth century ballroom. We were entertained by some highly talented young musicians and everyone got very into the singing (half my table was English so there were some extremely dodgy pronunciations of the classic Swedish drinking songs); we welcomed in the spring in a hearty manner which seems to have been highly successful given the very sunny weather in the UK today. The Swedes are brilliant at marking the seasons of the year with celebrations and I am grateful to them for coming up with Valborg at some point in the Middle Ages.
In Scandinavia, people decorate their homes with birch twigs decorated with coloured feathers, painted eggs and ‘Easter witches’ at Easter (in pagan times, people believed that Maundy Thursday was the most popular night of the year for witches to convene with demons). The birch twigs are apparently a reminder of Christ’s suffering on the cross. We couldn’t find any birch twigs but picked some branches with bright yellow flowers from the garden from which to hang our painted eggs.