Day 165 — A California Christmas in Sweden

It rained most of last night but by around 9:00 this morning it stopped. Julafton in Sweden. It was a Christmas unlike any I have celebrated and was the same for many Swedes but for a different reason. Usually it is snowing or raining or cold and miserable here on Christmas, but before noon the sky was crystal clear.

Further proof:

But I would be getting ahead of myself if I did not cover what happened this morning. First a pack walk along the beach.

Proof I was there. Afterwards I went for a workout on a hill along Prins Bertils Stig. I run up the hill and walk back down eight or so times. At one point coming back down I heard whoops and hollers and what sounded like splashing water.

Those little buildings are saunas and those guys just came back from skinny dipping in the sea. The trick to bathing in the ocean in winter, I am told, is to get really, really warm before hand. It’s a Scandinavian thing.

On the way back, I took a shot of our favorite scenic spot. This could very well be a summer shot. Blue skies, no wind. Incredible for winter.

Meanwhile, Mariette took some photos around the house to show what the beginning of winter has looked like this year. She and all residents here are shocked. There were plenty of people out jogging, walking and enjoying the bright sunshine and mid-to-high 40 degree temperatures. Mariette’s parents later said they could not remember weather like this for Christmas. I take full credit because in all my years in Redwood City I could not remember a Christmas where it was NOT like this, except one. I must have brought the weather with us.

Our living room. Note the extreme low angle of the shadow on the painting. This was taken about 11:00 a.m. and it is already low in the sky.

Yet, the lawn is still a lush green. I may have to mow it again soon. This blows Mariette’s mind as she never remembered green grass later than October.

But enough of that. It’s Christmas here in Sweden, so over the river and through the woods to Mariette’s parents’ house we go. Mariette’s mom was lying bundled up on her chaise lounge in the sun as she will do on any sunny winter day. She and Bianca were obviously happy so see one another. You can see them here catching up on the latest.

Very Swedish Christmas tree: spare branches, only white lights, few ornaments and tinsel.

Mariette’s mom is partial to angels and her Christmas angels were out on display.

So was the Jul bock. This was more or less how presents got delivered in Sweden before Santa Claus.

The decoration that Mariette sewed when she was 11 was on display also.

After a few pieces of steak for Bianca, we took a walk down to the beach.

Last month’s storm eroded the dunes and the beach is now about 10 meters wider than before, which will be great for next summer.

All this is still lead up to the nationwide “official” beginning of Christmas. It is an event that has a higher percentage of Swedish households tuned in, I am sure, than the Super Bowl in America. The roads are empty, the TV sets are tuned to SVT 1 and the family is gathered  round to launch the year’s Christmas celebration, as they do every single year, with . . . . . .

(drum roll) . . . . . . . . . . . (cymbal clash) . . . . . . . . .

Donald Freaking Duck!!!! I kid you not. Every Swede watches a collection of Disney cartoons from 3:00 to 4:00 on Julafton and that signals the start of Christmas. The mind boggles. I thought all-song in the rain was over-the-top. Donald Duck is known here as Kalle Anka and they show the same cartoons every year and have been doing this since at least since Mariette was a child. All the Disney characters are represented. I even remember many of these when I was a kid but have not seen them in over 50 years.

Mickey is called something like Mussi Pigg in Sweden.

Half the cartoons have nothing to do with Christmas.

Mariette had warned me about Kalle Anka but I was still amazed and not in a bad way at all. The thought of 90% of the people in the country watching these 60 and 70 year old cartoons year after year is incredible. There are quite a number of broad agreements in Swedish society that I have learned about since being here and Kalle Anka, for sure, is another. (One exception, Mariette’s mom says she has never watched Kalle Anka and never will. She has a contrarian streak in her that is wonderful.)

Afterwards, Olle tickled the ivories while Ella prepared the Christmas feast.

My favorite: pork chops, potatoes, green beans with gravy and lingonberry jam all washed down with Jul Must, a seasonal cola drink. For dessert we had incredible apple strudel like things with vanilla sauce. Very different from the julbord meals we have had in recent weeks, but as satisfying in its own way.

Time to really get down to business, the appearance of tompten to hand out the loot to all good girls and boys. In fact, tompten is supposed to come in hollering “Are there any good children here?” but I came in singing “Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” Fortunately, I remembered my lines in time so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Tompten hands out the gifts and then the unwrapping begins.

Bianca went crazy.

We got handmade ornaments from our little friends Sam and Emily that are already hanging on our tree at home.

Bianca getting her big gift, a bone. She was so stuffed with steak and pork chops and cookies that she decided to save it until tomorrow. That was a first.

But wait, there is more national TV viewing.

At 7:00 every year a show comes on called something like Karl-Bertils Christmas. I doubt if the people who control U.S. media would permit this to play in America even though 99% of the populace today would enjoy it. It is the story of a poor little rich kid who works in the post office over Christmas and who dreams of being Robin Hood. First, he sneaks his father’s copy of the national tax registry which lists the income of everybody in the country. He then takes all the presents being mailed to rich people and goes down to the poor part of town and gives them to the poor people. His rich father hits the roof when the son confesses and bemoans the fact he has a communist for a son. The next day he takes the son around to confess to everyone he has ripped off. Every person he confesses to says they hated those gifts anyway and are glad that Karl-Bertil gave them to people who appreciated them. Dad is suddenly proud of his son and Karl-Bertil is a hero for fulfilling his Robin Hood fantasy. The show is a far cry from the Disney style of animation but the message is pure Swedish egalitarianism.

The busses stopped running at 5:00 this afternoon and every taxi in town was booked after 9:00, so we had to head home at 8:30 but that still left an hour for the evening fika.

When we got home, the sky was clear and the stars were out in force so we walked down to the beach to appreciate their splendor. I think I could really learn to like this place.

All in all, it was a pretty full day. And a pretty wonderful one. We hope all of you have an equally happy, full and satisfying day tomorrow with family and friends.

GOD JUL från Mariette, Dan och Bianca!

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