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Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

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There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.

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There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.

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Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.

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Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.

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Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:

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During the 1800′s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte


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The First of May

IMG_3950In 1938 May 1st was recognized as the first non religious “red day” holiday in Sweden, meaning that it’s a day off of work for most. On this particular red day though, you will find even more stores and restaurants closed because it is “International Workers Day” when political rallies flare up to fight for workers rights (since 1890). On this day there are demonstrations throughout Sweden, some of which can escalate into violence. In our town it consists of a couple calm hours of speeches, music, marching with banners, and ‘events’ in town square trying to recruit people to their cause.

There’s always a lot more than politics going on on this beautiful day though – aside from the hang overs from last nights Valborg celebrations. The two things that catch my eye are the releasing of the cows (which I unfortunately wasn’t able to see) and the classic car parade (which is not a Sweden thing, but a Halmstad thing). Last year we stumbled upon the car parade by accident and posted photos. This year we went in anticipation with ice cream in hand. Instead of photos, enjoy this video so you can hear the rumble of the engines, beeping of the horns, and music blasting from the windows.


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First SomethingSwedish VIDEO: Valborg in Halmstad, celebrating Spring in Sweden

Last year was my first time experiencing the celebration of Valborg in Sweden. Here, let this link to last years post refresh your memory: **Links are currently broken – search for “Valborg- How We Welcome Spring in Sweden” to learn more about this tradition **

This year I decided to do something a bit different – I decided that text and photos are no longer enough for the fans, friends, and family of SomethingSwedish – so I started a Youtube channel, recorded a video, edited it, and am now sharing it for your viewing pleasure!

A lot of you have said how it feels like you are living vicariously through my words and captured moments, I want it to feel like you are really in Sweden with me. A picture can say a thousand words, but is that enough to feel the atmosphere, hear the language, and listen to the music?

Enjoy this video of the Valborg celebration, I hope it to be the first of many! Tell me what you think and what you want to see videos of next!


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Glad Påsk! Happy Easter!

Sitting on the train heading up to Värnamo to spend the holiday with my in-laws we were approached by a little girl. Being accustomed to panhandling on the subway in NYC, I averted my eyes, hoping my husband would deal with it and send her away. When a meek gentle voice wished us “Glad Påsk” I saw that the girl was dressed as an Easter Witch with a green apron and scarf, covered in painted-on freckles. She was the daughter of the train conductor, handing out free chocolate Easter egg candies to all the passengers.

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Easter in Sweden is all about the candy, eggs, and witches. Instead of Easter baskets, candy is kept in large paper Easter eggs:

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The three main decorations of Easter are these oversized decorated Easter eggs, colorful feathers, and witches on broomsticks.

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Wondering why Easter in Sweden has so many witches? Easter was believed to be the day when the witches would fly to the blue mountain and dance with the devil. It was common to  close the windows and light fires so the witches wouldn’t land on near your house. Nowadays, Swedish Easter witches are kids walking from house to house dressed in scarfs and rags with a copper teapot collecting treats from neighbors in exchange for drawings.

This year I even found devil chickens to accompany my Easter witch:

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Freaky. Thankfully the cute type are still around:

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And then we have the edible type that my husband expertly crafted:

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Behind the scenes, making of:

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As with every Swedish Holiday, the smörgåsbord is beautiful and delicious:

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With a little extra eggs (Hard and soft boiled)  on the table, Påskmust (Easter soda) and schnaps. it is an Easter meal.

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We rounded the night off with some monopoly…guess who won!?

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Hope everyone had a great holiday!!

Read about last years Easter Here!


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Lately & Two Swedish Words That Explain Why I’ve Been Missing

Remember when Something Swedish was updated all the time? Those were the days. I’m not complaining though – I’m finally more settled into my Swedish life with things to do, places to go and people to see.

I always have things to write about Sweden, because everyday is still an adventure. I read the newspaper more and learn more interesting things that I want to share. I have tons of ideas about posts, some half written, some scribbled in a notebook. Some time sensitive ones that slip between my fingers.

Then why have I been missing?  I’ll describe it with two Swedish words:

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“Hinner” & “Orkar”.

These words don”t have direct word to word translations from English to Swedish, but are easy to understand and explain.

Hinner = to have time.
Orka =to have energy to/to be able to/to manage to

So, when “hinner” or “orkar” are negated (inte) it means that I can’t find the time or the energy.

“Förlåt, jag hinner inte. Jag orkar inte att skriva idag.”
(Sorry, I don’t have time. I don’t have the energy to write today)

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Lately life has been centered around studying, working, and socializing – the way life should be!

Firstly, St. Patty’s day. Last year (here) I pointed out that it’s important to hold onto traditions even in a new country that doesn’t do things the same way. I started to create St. Patty’s day instead of just celebrating it. This year I extended our celebration and made a bigger dinner and celebrated with friends. A St. Patty’s Day care package from family arrived, we drank green beer, ate corn beef and cabbage, soda bread, colcannon, stekfläsk, and a chocolate Guiness cake! (Click photos to enlarge)

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Secondly, this month was Bokrea – which I wrote all about last year: here. Basically, it’s a country wide book sale. We picked up a mix of books, some English, some Swedish – not that I’ve had time (Jag har inte hunnit) to open any of them yet. We found Swedish graphic novels of Dracula and Tom Sawyer, a pile of Swedish audio books, and a young adult novel by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, translated to Swedish. Once I’m done with Svenska som Andra Språk (which is going smoothly – I’ve stared the third level) I’ll make sure that my “studying” consists more of leisurely reading of the Swedish books I’ve bought.

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This month has been filled with new friends and a lot of fikas! Both at cafes and at home with the hubby:

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Life is good. I promise to share it more often again. I was being greedy.


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Cooking Swedish: Semlor

Semlor day is here again! Read all about the history, meaning, and traditions of Fettisdag and semlor (And a review of the best semlor in Halmstad) in last years posts: HERE and HERE.

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This year, learn how to make your own beloved Swedish classic! c’mon be a little Swedish! These sweet buns are eaten until Easter, so you have time!

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Another New Year

Welcome to 2013, everyone! I’m almost sad to see 2012 go, as it was a fantastic year for me – but here’s hoping that 2013 is even better!

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Celebrating New Years in Sweden means one thing: Fireworks – everywhere!

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During the amazing fun New Years Party filled with drinking, laughing, and dancing on the 6th floor (with a balcony), we had a great view of the fireworks. You could hear the excitement build up throughout the day as a few fireworks would be set off here and there, impatiently waiting for the grand finale at midnight. In fact, you can hear the occasional firework the whole week between Christmas and New Years. We even went down stairs and set off a few of our own!

2012 was my first full year living abroad in Sweden filled with adjusting, learning, struggles, accomplishments, and meeting a lot of great new friends.

Last year I:

~ learned a foreign language well enough to use in simple everyday conversations, read (some) newspapers, write (short) letters, and understand the world around me a little better.

~ completed S.F.I, Swedish For Immigrants, class!

~ registered to start my next step towards fluency – S.A.S, Swedish as a Second Language, on January 14th.

~ watched and understood at least ten movies in Swedish with Swedish subtitles.

~ went on three interviews, one of which was completely in Swedish.

~ volunteered at a Swedish school for a week, substituted for two days – got my first Swedish paycheck.

~ learned how to cook & found out that I love doing it, and I’m not too bad at it either.

~ hosted my very first Thanksgiving dinner in a country that doesn’t even celebrate it.

~ celebrated Swedish holidays Valborg and Lucia for the first time.

~ gotten used to Swedish weather, culture, food, and mannerisms.

~ made dozens of new friends, both native Swedish and Swedish immigrants from all around the world.

~ started this blog and have met wonderful people through it!

Towards the end of the year I even reconnected with something I love doing, but haven’t bothered with since I moved to Sweden – Making cards! I made 24 cards right before Christmas and sent 14 out to the U.S for friends and family. Getting back into crafting is something I’m aiming for in 2013:

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Aside from try to reconnect with my artistic side, instead of making New Year Resolutions we decided to choose one or two words to “live by” in 2013. Mine are: Success & Fit. I’m ready!

What New Years Resolutions did you make?

Julbord: Christmas Table

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I’ve eaten Christmas dinner in Sweden four times now, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how traditional it really is. A week before Christmas we had lunch at a restaurant, which happened to be serving a “Julbord.” Christmas in Sweden is all about the Julbord – think “Smörgåsbord” but with all the classic Christmas foods. The restaurant Julbord was serving the exact same Christmas foods as I’ve eaten in Sweden the last few years; it’s not just a family tradition.

Come noon on December 24th (Swede’s celebrate on the eve, or afton) our Julbord looks something like this every year:

Except this year we somehow forgot the boiled eggs – a Swedish tragedy. So, whats on this Christmas Table? Let’s see!

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Julskinka: Naturally, The Christmas Ham – only eaten after smothered in mustard.

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Dopp i gryta: “Dip in the pot” -  Using the rich flavored Christmas Ham broth, it is very traditional to dip dark bread and to eat the soaked bread along with Christmas dinner.

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Janssons Frestelse:  “Janssons Temptation”a delicious dish with very thinly cut potato ‘sticks’ is cooked in the oven with a secret ingredient that makes many non-swedes squirm…

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Anchovies. and anchovy juice.  Sounds gross, I know, but it’s awesome and full of flavor!

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Kålpudding:  Cabbage pudding. Thinly chopped cabbage, fried with syrup, baked with a thick layer of seasoned ground beef in the middle.

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Some Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse  preparation.

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Fläskkorv: large pork sausage

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Prinskorv: “Prince sausage”  mini hotdog-like sausages

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Köttbullar: The homemade meatballs, of course.

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Brunkål: Brown Cabbage, served as a side dish. Cabbage is boiled and fried and seasoned with vinegar, salt and syrup.

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Christmas Bread

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Cheese, bread, butter, and salad.

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My Christmas feast. Bottom center is the Kålpudding and Janssons Frestelse.

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Alongside we drank Julmust, beer, and snaps.

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Julmust is a very popular cola beverage that is Christmas themed and has a distinctly different “holiday” flavor.

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After dinner and before the presents we eat Struva and glögg - a Swedish mulled spiced wine served warm with raisins and almonds.

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Later that evening we enjoyed Swedish cheesecake, icecream, jam, and cream with coffee, tea, and liquor.

If we had any young kids in the family our Christmas eve festivities would be very different, having to schedule around the must-watch 3:00pm Christmas cartoon, “Kalle Anka,” or as we know him – Donald Duck.  Every year half of Sweden faithfully sits around the television and watches “Kalle Anke och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Which would probably be followed by a mysterious Santa knocking on the door and giving out presents.

Christmas eve is also filled with tons of chocolate treats and candy, both as dessert and presents.

On Christmas Day, as if we aren’t full enough, we have our next food tradition – Lutfisk served with boiled potatoes.

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Lutefisk is a white fish that is air dried to later be re-hydrated with water and lye. The fish soaks in the lye water for weeks before it is ready to be cooked. The fish has a strange consistency the first time you eat it, but it is easily forgotten because it is served with a ton of white sauce, salt, and pepper. There are very small bones in the fish,  so be careful!

One last thing – it is very popular to make gingerbread houses in Sweden, as well as to eat ginger bread cookies throughout the month.

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Swedish Santa: Tomte

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In Sweden you’ll find all sorts of Santas – some more familiar than others. Some hardly recognizable as “Santa.” While you’ll see Jolly ‘ol Saint Nick from time to time, you’re much more likely to find depictions closer to what we have as elves, which a few years ago I was surprised to find out are Swedish Santas or “Tomten.”

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I’ve gotten used to the fact that my beloved childhood Santa Claus doesn’t live in Sweden, and that every country has it’s own version. I’m pretty happy that Sweden has such cute little fellas, which such rich history! – So, what is tomten…and why are they so small!?

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Tomten (sometimes called Nisse) hasn’t always been the Swedish Santa (replacing the Yule Goat); actually originating as a mythical creature in Scandinavian lore that played a role more similar to a “house gnome.” The tomten would secretly live in, or under, a house and protect the children and animals from evil or misfortune. Sometimes a tomten would even help with chores or farm work. Despite being tiny, they were also known to have a temper, playing tricks or killing livestock if offended by rudeness.

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It wasn’t until the 1840′s that  tomten became Jultomten, or “Christmas tomten,” and  started to play the role of Santa after being depicted  as wearing a red cap and having a white beard – and of course tomten started delivering Christmas gifts.  Jultomten didn’t replace tomten, but nowadays when people talk about “tomten” they are normally referring to the Swedish Santa. The traditional “house gnome” tomten is called a hustomte or tomtar.

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When a tomten delivers 2012-12-03 15.27.32Christmas gifts, he doesn’t use the chimney, but comes straight through the front door. This coincides with the Swedish tradition of many households having their very own Santa simply walk in and hand out presents. If a family has young kids, it is common for someone to dress up and play the role with these costumes found in stores (My husband was Santa for his nephew for many years).

Jultomtens don’t live  in the North Pole,  like Santa, or in peoples houses, like traditional tomtens, but is believed to instead live in nearby forests. Much like leaving Santa cookies and milk, tomten likes porridge, or rather requires it. If not gifted with porridge, tomten would stop helping and leave the house or, even worse, cause mischief. And don’t forget to include the almond and butter.

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Tomten is sometimes shown carrying a pig, which is also a popular Christmas decoration in Sweden.

This year was the first time I saw Santa out and  about. Unlike in New York where you will find a Santa in every big store with a long queue or children waiting to sit on his lap, the “Mall Santa” is not a popular thing in Sweden.

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A few weeks ago we spotted Santa sitting under the towns (outdoor) Christmas tree with a dozen children huddled around. There was no long line, no one taking/selling photos, no one collecting money for a turn to talk to Santa.

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We talk about “writing our Christmas lists,” but whenever we go to see Santa we normally just say what we want. In Sweden those lists are key. Every single kid had a list in his or her hand, either written neatly before or scribbled right then and there on scraps, backs of envelopes, or wrinkled receipts.

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When asked if he would take a photo by the decorated tree nearby, he posed for us – with his baskets of wish list letters.

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Hope everyone had a Great Christmas!! – More about Swedish Christmas (Traditions, Food, and decorations) coming up soon!

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Trip to the Tivoli Christmas Market

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Tivoli is always a beautiful place, especially at night, but with all the extra Christmas decorations and lights, with dozens of fun stores filled with presents and ornaments, it was extra special!  ~ Enjoy!

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Hope all those photos put you in the Christmas spirit! This week I sent out all of my U.S bound Christmas cards and exchanged my first presents! It really is around the corner!

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