It is a pleasure for me to share some of my fond memories of the Swedish Christmas traditions and the cuisine that followed me from my homeland when I moved to the United States at age 22.
November in Sweden is probably my least favorite month. The snow has not yet fallen to brighten up the landscape. It is dark, gloomy, and it rains a lot.
“November” by Alf Henriksson
Olust is painted in the dragon
You stay easy for laughter
Do you hurry to the day forward
Yes, then it’s already night
When December and Advent comes, Swedes seem uplifted.
They hang lit paper stars in their windows, take out the Advent candles, and the baking and prepping for Christmas begins. Gingerbread cookies and special candies are made, and the stores are full of Christmas decorations. The churches and schools have their holiday programs. Little children get their Advent calendars, and each day they open a window to find a small chocolate confirming a day closer to when Santa arrives.
On the 13th of December, we await Santa Lucia and her maidens. They are the "bearers of light" and the girls are dressed in long white dresses with red sashes around their waists, crowns of wreaths in their hair, and candles in their hands. Lucia's crown
has real candles in it. There are many stories of how Lucia became a saint and a tradition in Scandinavia. The most popular one is the one told by the monks who first brought Christianity to our part of the world. Lucia was a young woman who carried food to the prisoners jailed in the catacombs in Rome. She was martyred and killed because of her faith.
To the Swedes, this tradition represents light in the darkest time of the year, and Lucia brings hope and happiness into their homes, churches, schools, hospitals, and retirement homes. Lucia and her maidens sing songs, and Lucia often carries sweet buns (lussekatter) flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins as treats. Many cities have contests to crown a Lucia.
It is an honor for many young girls to represent their cities this way.
As a child, my parents and my mother's sister's family celebrated Christmas with my grandparents (mormor and morfar). My grandparents lived close to Norway in the countryside, and at Christmas time, the landscape became a true winter wonderland.
My cousins and I remember building snowmen, going skiing, and yes, loving mormor's homemade cookies. She had baked for weeks, and the house smelled so good. We went into the forest with morfar and picked out the Christmas trees, which we later spent the day decorating. Mormor put one of the trees out on the porch with real candles, and when she lit it, the flames glistened in the snow, and we all felt it was magical.
On the 24th, we enjoyed a typical Swedish Smörgåsbord in the afternoon, and then my cousins and I danced around the Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols until Santa (Jultomten) came, and we happily opened our presents.
The next morning at about 5:30 am, we set out for church (julotta) with horse and sled to arrive at a church all lit up by candles.
We arrived back at mormor's, where she had prepared a lovely breakfast of Swedish pancakes, jams and cream. Lunch was "dopp I grytan." A broth was made from the droppings of when the large ham was baked. Everyone dipped a piece of homemade bread into the broth and ate that together with a slice of ham, mustard and potatoes. The traditional dessert served was "ris a la malta," which is a rice pudding with cream and candied orange peel and a berry sauce.
All these experiences are woven into what Christmas means to me, and I am so very grateful for these early memories.
It is probably true what they say about us Swedish expatriates. We carry our traditions very close to our hearts. We all have family back home and miss them probably most around Christmas time. I belong to a Global Swedish organization called SWEA (Swedish Women Educational Association) that consists of 70 chapters across 30 countries and five continents with about 80,000 Swedish speaking women. All the traditions that I have written about here are celebrated whether we live in Beijing, Dubai, Lisbon or here in Los Angeles. We all organize large Christmas Fairs. Many vendors sell Swedish handmade goods, as well as specialty foods that we love to eat during the season. The highlight is of course when Lucia comes and entertains. Those of us that own the traditional Swedish dresses will show them off during the fair which delight our visitors.
Many of you have heard about the famous Swedish Smörgåsbord. It is never more popular than during Christmas time.
When I have our annual Christmas party, I start with serving two very popular Swedish appetizers, the "Skagen Röra" or "Toast Skagen," which is baby shrimp in mayonnaise, chopped dill, and a whitefish roe called "Löjrom" and the famous gravlax on pumpernickel bread topped with mustard dill sauce. We also drink a very typical Christmas drink called "glogg," which contains red wine, akvavit, sugar and spices and is served with almonds and raisins.
On the Smörgåsbord, the first serving one should sample are the fish dishes. Who would have known that herring, a staple in sustaining the masses in Europe from starvation in the Middle Ages, is now our first delicacy. There are many ways of preparing the herring dishes, such as pickled or marinated, but mostly they are accompanied by small potatoes. "Jansons Temptation" is another very popular fish dish. A certain Mrs. Stigmark thought that the ansjovis gratin that she was serving had a very boring name, so she renamed it "Jansons Frestelse" after a popular funny film in 1929. The herring is traditionally served with ice cold akvavit and beer. We also have the popular poached salmon on the table all decorated and served with a mustard dill sauce.
The second serving is the delightful pate dishes. The jellied veal, the pickled beets, beet salad, and cucumber salad taste great together with the pates.
The third salute to the Swedish cuisine is definitely the meatballs. Don't forget the lingonberry jam. The red cabbage, the ribs, the brown beans as well as the different warm sausages are always also present .
The fourth popular dish is the traditional Christmas ham. It is baked, then coated with mustard, sugar and breadcrumbs. Several different mustards accompany the ham.
The fifth serving welcomes all the cheeses, the cold sausages and all the different breads, especially the traditional sweet rye which has a touch of bitterness.
Lastly, the sixth delight, maybe the most popular, is found on the dessert table: the Julelog, the Princess cake and the Croque-en-Bouche. The last one is a homage to our Swedish royal family who has French ancestry. The gingerbread cookies are of course on the table as well. Traditionally, we also put out homemade molasses and marzipan candies.... But I stopped that tradition way back. How much can you eat!!!
Here is a recipe of the Swedish meatballs that I serve.
- ½ lb ground beef
- ½ lb ground veal
- ½ lb ground pork
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 ½ cups half and half cream and soda water
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons chopped onions
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
To fry ...2-3 tablespoons butter
- Melt butter in skillet and fry the onions
- Soak the breadcrumbs in the cream and soda water
- Add the meats, eggs, onion, salt and pepper
- Shape into balls and fry in butter until evenly brown
- Serve with lingonberry jam
God Jul Everyone
Post by Kerstin Royce
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member