Christina here. It’s been a strange year and Christmas is definitely going to be different, although I’m lucky enough to be able to celebrate it with my husband and two daughters. It’s making me think about the past, however, and I’m feeling a trifle nostalgic. The Christmases we had as children always seem so much more magical than anything we can have as adults, and it’s lovely to have those memories. So today I thought I’d share the kind of Christmas I had as a child:-
It all began on the first Sunday of Advent – whichever Sunday was closest to the 1st December. In the town where I lived that was the day all the shops were allowed to unveil their Christmas window displays (not late October like these days!) and the town’s Christmas lights were switched on. Just about the entire population trooped down to walk around and look at them. At that time of year in Sweden it gets dark before 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and I can never remember a year when we didn’t have lots of snow by then so the lights looked magical. There was also a Christmas market inside a huge underground car park (very sensible as it’s too cold to stand outside at that time of year). Lots to enchant a little girl!
In the following weeks, the preparations began. I was lucky enough to live in the same house as my maternal grandparents (in an apartment above theirs). I was always allowed to help Grandma with the cooking and baking, even though it probably took her twice as long with me and my little brother underfoot. She made special sausages – julkorv – which were my Grandpa’s favourites, as well as veal brawn, salt beef, tonnes of meatballs, pickled herring, gravad lax (marinated salmon) and various types of cookies. As I mentioned in a previous post, we also made gingerbread in great-grandfather’s bakery together with my aunts and cousins, a definite highlight of the year.
No Christmas was complete without special treats and Grandma made lots of sweets/candy. I still have her recipe for chocolate toffee which is fiendishly difficult to make. If you get even one tiny drop of water into the mixture, it’s spoiled, and even if you get it perfect it can still all go wrong when you leave it to cool. I very seldom get it right but I keep trying! (Needless to say, Grandma’s were always perfect). Then there was the marzipan. Personally I hate the stuff, but I really enjoyed rolling it out and making shapes, dipping them in chocolate or adding sugary decorations. Finally there were chocolate treats of various kinds – puffed rice covered in milk and dark chocolate, almond clusters and trios of hazelnuts in chocolate … I’m sure there were others too.
Grandma and I also spent hours making little pom-pom decorations for the Christmas tree out of tissue paper. For each one you needed an empty toilet roll as the center, and a sugar lump to go inside to add weight, then squares of tissue paper in different colours which had to be cut at the edges in long, thin strips. The whole was wrapped around the toilet roll, tied with string and voilá – a pom-pom. I’m not sure why we made new ones every year – perhaps it was just to keep me occupied? Last year when Sue Moorcroft and I visited Stockholm together, we went to an outdoor museum called Skansen and I was delighted to see just this kind of pom-pom on a tree in one of the houses there.
The 13th of December is St Lucia’s day, traditionally the darkest day of the year. This is celebrated by girls dressed in long white nightgowns and wearing candles on their heads (usually electric ones these days as that is safer). They sing special Lucia songs and bring light to the darkness of the winter morning – it’s beautiful! If you’d like a taste, have a look here. You also eat special saffron buns called lussebullar, and Grandma and I made several batches (some without saffron too).
On the 23rd December, the tree would be brought into the house and decorated. It was always a real fir tree, and to this day the smell brings back such vivid memories it almost leaves me breathless. We had one in our house and then we helped decorate my grandparents’ tree as well. In Sweden, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and presents are not opened until the afternoon. My parents knew how excited my brother and I were so they always left one present at the end of our bed for us to open in the morning. For me, it was usually a book (Enid Blyton) to keep me busy and for my brother a toy car of some sort.
Christmas lunch was a smörgåsbord of everything we’d prepared during the previous weeks, with a huge boiled ham as a centerpiece. Then at last we were allowed to open our presents, first at home with just my family, then later at Grandma and Grandpa’s house together with all our aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives. Stuffed full of sweets, we then settled down as Grandpa read aloud to us from a book by Astrid Lindgren – Emil i Lönneberga. He was a specialist at doing the regional accent required for this because the author came from the same county as us.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, there was a traditional evening meal of rice porridge – julgröt – with sugar, cinnamon and creamy milk. I have no idea how we managed that as well, but we did. A blanched almond was put in the porridge and whoever got that in their bowl was said to be the next person in the family to be married. Needless to say, this caused a lot of hilarity if it was one of us children.
So there you have it, a perfect childhood Christmas for me. What about you – what was yours like? I hope you have lots of happy memories!
HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!