Day 152 — Swedish Christmas Traditions

Mariette has a really interesting and wonderful family. Her maternal grandfather was a builder who collected all manner of implements of 19th Century Swedish agrarian life and built a museum packed full of them. He had five children, four of whom have their own children and these are Mariette’s aunts, uncles and cousins. To me they embody the best of the Swedish system, down to earth, productive middle class people with an interest in the country’s heritage who genuinely enjoy one another’s company.

Anyway, two of the old Christmas traditions they have preserved are candle making and wreath making. While those activities did occur today, I think it was basically a reason to have everyone together to enjoy the company and eat some really good food.

The gathering took place at Mariette’s uncle Hans Erik and his wife Margerata’s lovely house on the coast north of Halmstad.

I think the house was built in the 1980s or 90s but was modeled on the old-style houses with the sod roof and lower-roofed middle section, which was where the fireplace was in the old days to preserve heat. Really a charming place.

Complete with beehives. Hans-Erik is a beekeeper and has been stung so many times he wouldn’t know what a summer day would be like without at least one. (I think I am exaggerating here for effect. But I have seen him get stung and it is nothing to him, so it must have happened a lot.) His honey is very different from what we usually think of honey.  A lot of Swedish honey goes through an extra processing step that gives it a buttery consistency and a different taste, really yummy.

The area is different from where we live. No forest pushing right up against the shore. There are Icelandic ponies that keep down the vegetation here.

Okay, everybody is arrived, on to the candle making. Well, no. First, Swedes get together and EAT! This was almost another julbord with numerous dishes, all superb.

And schnaps. This stuff was very strong but unbelievably smooth.

Hans-Erik and Margareta (center), possibly the sweetest woman in the world unless it is their daughters Helena and Anna.

Helena and her cousin Elin (center). Okay, after a couple helpings and then coffee and pepper cookies it is time to do some work.

The wicks are cut to length and tied to sticks.

Even those with ten thumbs are allowed to take part.

The sticks are lines up on bigger sticks.

The candle wax is set in a pot of water heated to about 70 C. Then the fun begins.

Here is Hans-Erik checking the temperature with his brother Ejve.

Ejve swims in the sea from May to November. You have to be a maniac to do that in November. But there is another uncle, Enar, who made the front page of a local paper for skinny dipping on New Years Day this past January year. This brought new meaning to the term Polar Bare Club.

One by one the wicks are dipped in the wax and replaced on the rack. People circle around dipping the wicks and letting them dry one after the other, but mostly just visiting and catching up since the last get-together.

It takes about 40 dips to accumulate enough wax so it gives people plenty of time to visit. In the middle of this, there is fika, in today’s case glögg and sweet breads. Glögg is a seasonal drink with spices, almonds and raisins and often alcohol.

Meanwhile, out in the garage, wreath making has begun.

These are the magic hands of Ejve’s wife, Gunilla who, like Margareta, is also an angel.

My first wreath. Maybe not such a good line of work for someone with an affinity for abstract art.

A nice arrangement courtesy of Mariette. Somebody went out into the forest and gathered all the raw materials.

Late arrivals were Mariette’s cousin Anna, her husband and their two adorable kids. This is Amanda.

Have you ever seen a more Swedish looking person in your life than Pär, here with son Bertil. Fathers get a year or so of parental leave and Pär will be off with the kids until next August. This is socialism, folks. Probably not how it works in North Korea, but it seems to work out pretty well in Scandinavia.

The candles are taking shape nicely.

Forty dips later, done. (For some reason this shot turned out really sharp.) Notice the slightly irregular quality to each candle.

Back at home, after a wonderful day, it is time to light the third Advent candle (totally regular in shape, obviously made by machine).

I have to say, I have never had a Christmas like this. Mariette and her family have really made it enjoyable.





6 thoughts on “Day 152 — Swedish Christmas Traditions

  1. Dan, quite a pictoral! What an amazing day you two had. Sort of reminds me of Xmas when I was a little kid living in MN back in the 50’s. Thanks for sharing.

  2. “This is socialism, folks. Probably not how it works in North Korea, but it seems to work out pretty well in Scandinavia.”
    Thanks for a great blog, Dan! It is really interesting to see how Sweden looks from an (ex) americans point of view!

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