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..