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julbock


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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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Celebrating St. Lucia with the kiddies

While everyone in the states is “celebrating” (or at least posting on facebook about) Friday the 13th, the atmosphere here in Sweden is very different. December the 13th (no matter what day it falls on) is St. Lucia – a day of candlelight and song when the winter nights are so dark and long.

Last year was my first St. Lucia and I celebrated by going to the church to see the traditional luciatåg – which was breathtakingly beautiful and magical. If you missed the post about it, see the photos and read all about the history and how it is celebrated here.

This year was a little different, this year it was a kiddie Lucia for me. Instead of going to the church after sunset, we gathered at “folkets hus” (The peoples house) before sunrise.

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photo from: http://fruerlandsson.blogspot.se/2010/04/sondrums-fokets-hus.html As I never got to see it during day time.

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The bulletin board invite

At 7:30am the kiddies started showing up dressed with their Lucia outfits on, ready to sing – at least most of them, naturally there were some tears and screaming when it was time to go on stage. If the traditional church Lucia I went to last year was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, this was the cutest. The outfits that kids wear for St.Lucia are adorable! Of course, the girls all dress up as Lucia with a crown of (electronic) candles on their heads and a red belt, while the boys all want to be tomte (santa), leaving my two favorites ignored: stjärngossar (Star boys – which look like little magicians with star wands and pointy wizard hats) and Peperkaksgubbar/pepperkaksgummar (gingerbread boys and girls).

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Gingerbread outfit – so cute you can eat it up!

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stjärngossar hat and star

And then of course there are tärnor, Lucia’s “handmaidens,” dressed in long white robes to match Lucia but without the crown of candles, but strings of silver garland around the head and waist. This is the best way to “dress up” for Lucia without really dressing up. All of us teachers sported our garland crowns as we walked with the kids and helped them muster up the courage to sing  on stage for so many parents.

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Celebrating St. Lucia

The kids did great! They were able to sing all the songs and had a great time. (and now I’ve learned some more Swedish songs myself!) I wasn’t able to get any good photos, but did record a little bit for your listening pleasure (Yes, it was very dark and yes, I cut away any parts where I was singing along.): 

After the songs everyone sat down and had fika that all the families brought from home. It was still dark out, so the room was still dim – illuminated with candles on the long tables. At the “teacher table” we enjoyed lussekatter (holiday saffron buns), ginger bread cookies, and clementines. Similar to a “lussefika” we had last Sunday to socialize outside of work and celebrate the holidays with a special secret santa game:

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Photo from afterwork fika, not Lucia.

After fika one of the parents made a speech to thank the school and teachers and then, with the help of the kids, handed out beautiful flowers and cookie tins with cards for each of us.

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And to think I was hesitant about having to wake up at 6am. So worth it to see this other, adorable, side of Lucia.


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Celebrating Cinnamon Rolls in Sweden

October 4th: a day to cherish and savor the beloved cinnamon roll (which originates from Sweden), or “Kanelbulle” a little more than normal.

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To celebrate last year I made Swedish and American Cinnamon rolls side by side to compare. Read about that experiment HERE.

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This year, however, I decided to do something different (AKA: less work) and compared cinnamon buns from different local bakeries.

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I used the same bakeries as when we tasted Semlor last year, in this post HERE (read about each bakery, and another delicious Swedish pastry there)

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At first I was unsure, a cinnamon roll is a cinnamon roll, right? Would they really be THAT different? Here’s our results:

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Traditional kanelbulle, perfect for fika. At only 7kr ($1), you can’t go wrong. A bit more cardemum flavoring, but overall a balanced bun.

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At 14 kr ($2), we were hoping that this would be a big step up, but it wasn’t. It was sweeter and a bit nicer – but not 7 kr worth. I liked this one more than the “benchmark” from Östras, but it was too pricey.

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Even though it looks sloppy, this cinnamon bun was surprisingly delicious. Discouraged by the 15kr price tag, I had my hesitations, but the addition of almond paste really made for an especially tasty treat.

RESULTS:

Paulssons is our choice when we want something a little more festive, like celebrating Kanelbullar dag.

Östras is our day-to-day take-away cinnamon bun.

Regnbågen is a nice treat if you’re having fika there and want to enjoy something sweet.

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I hope those of you in Halmstad find this helpful! Either way, no matter where you are – I hope you had a kanelbulle today!


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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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Waffle Day – Våffeldagen

In Sweden, today – and every 25th of March – is WAFFLE DAY! If you ever needed an excuse to eat waffles, here it is.

Waffles in the U.S. are a breakfast food, covered in syrup and butter. In Sweden, however, waffles are strictly dessert covered in freshly whipped cream and strawberry jam.

Why is it Waffle Day? They say that it stems from the mispronunciation of “vårfrudagen” (Our Lady’s Day) to “våffeldagen” (Waffle Day).  Leave it to Swedes to turn the conception of Christ into a day to enjoy waffles!2013-03-25 18.41.492013-03-25 18.41.46


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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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