Something Swedish


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Something Swedish in New York City: Visiting The Highline

2013-06-24 05.50.06It’s that time of the year! Visiting family, friends, and good ol’ NYC. Last year was my first “visit” back home, but not my first time being a tourist (I’ve done that every time my husband came to visit me over the years). Experiencing your own town as a tourist is like visiting a completely different place. You want to do, see, and learn more which means actually appreciating all that stuff around you that you would normally ignore. This is especially true in NYC, where there is so much going on all the time and not enough time to slow down to even notice.

Last year I had been in Sweden for only 6 months before we came back, this time the gap has been a whole year and a lot has changed in that time: Namely me. I’ve adjusted and adapted to my life in Sweden, so I’m here to tell you that reverse culture shock is a real thing. For my visit last year I ignored Something Swedish, since it wasn’t anything to do with Sweden, but since I now have readers from all around the world who might think it’s fun with a change of scenery, I’ll try to give you a taste of my trip!

Our first big outing was to the Highline, which we have been meaning to see since it was opened in 2009. The Highline is a public park built on an old elevated freight train track which preserves the old history and structure and adds a beautiful touch of greenery, artwork, and plenty of places to sit down to relax and soak up some sun. Stretching between Gansevoort street (south of West little 12th) and W29th street, it’s a great walk above the busy yellow cab filled streets below with an awesome view of Manhattan from a new angle among the rooftops, which is amazing for photos.

The old tracks:

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The view down Manhattan Streets:

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Artwork:

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Relaxing:

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The rest/random:

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There are lots of entrances/exits so this is a great way to walk through a small part of the city to get where you need to go with some refreshing scenery, no cross walks, honking cars, or street vendors. Great for easing back into the hectic city from a small laid back town in Sweden.

Bonus! Hubby has started up his own blog and his first post is featuring his select favorite photos from today’s outing. Check it out here: Ensorcella


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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?

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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S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time!

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Photo Credit: Recepten.se

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the  Recepten.se recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.

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This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.

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Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.

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Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.

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St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.

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Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

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It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!


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First Snowfall: Första Snöfall

When many people (Read: Americans) think of Sweden they think of snow. And Polar Bears (Which there are none of). A snowy winter is how I know Sweden to be, not only because of that stereotype, but because I have spent all of my visits here during Christmas time.

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I’ve always loved snow, but I welcomed this snow with extra glee. It doesn’t snow nearly as much in the Southern tip of Sweden as in the rest of the country. Yesterday was my first “first snow” in Sweden, especially because I finally have something to compare “Snowy Sweden” to. The best part of the first snow early in December? Saying goodbye to Dreary Grey November. I’ve never experienced a Swedish November before, and I have to say it was the worst. On December 1st the sky finally opened up and revealed it’s blue self again, and then gave us snow to brighten our long nights as we hung decorations.

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This will be my forth Christmas in Sweden, but my first full winter. My visits were usually barely enough time to enjoy Christmas and New Years. I’ve never been here long enough to enjoy Christmas shopping, Christmas Markets, Lucia, or Advent.

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I was surprised to see so many cyclists out braving the weather. I could barely walk without falling. There are more tire tracks than footprints in the snow.

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An interesting difference that I find in Sweden is the lack of shoveling. As soon as the snow accumulates at all in NYC you hear the whole neighborhood shoveling as its still snowing. And then again an hour later, and early in the morning. The sidewalks are COMPLETELY shoveled. In Sweden – not so much. I didn’t see or hear a single shovel, nor see a shoveled sidewalk. Instead, we just walk on the bumpy and slippery snow and ice on our way to work and school and try not to fall down. I guess it is also a different mentality than “If someone falls on my property because I didn’t shovel they can sue me” which is pretty unlikely to happen in Sweden.

In Sweden, instead of using rock salt before it snows or right after, there is always a layer of gravel on the ground from December – April. I guess it gives traction and breaks up the snow a bit, but it doesn’t melt snow and ice like rock salt does. And it looks so messy for months!

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Some photos of the beautiful sky we had today, taken from the new bridge that goes over the train tracks (2:30pm). I couldn’t quite capture it. To see photos of today’s picturesque sunset from a great view, visit this blogpost: MovingtoSweden

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A snowman I found outside my apartment, and a soda can – perfect way of measuring snow!

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Vocabulary:

Snow: Snö

Snowman: Snögubbe


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Swedish Seasons

Now that I’ve been in Sweden for almost 10 months (wow!) I’m getting to experience all the seasons in Sweden, and it has been a roller coaster! A very cloudy and rainy ride recently.

Southern Sweden is a comfortable mix of warm, but not too hot, summers, and cold, but not unbearably freezing, winters. Notice I only mentioned two seasons? Spring and Fall/Autumn come and go so quickly you can barely feel it in the air.

In SFI we learn the seasons (årstider):

Summer (sommar): June-Mid August [2.5]
Fall (höst):  Mid August-October [2.5 months]
Winter (vinter): November-March [5 months]
Spring (vår): April-May [2 months]

But in fact this is only an estimate.

In Sweden there is no small talk about it officially being the first day of Fall. Not because the season is so brief, but because seasons are not noted on the Swedish calendar. You “feel” when a season arrives, you don’t “know” ahead of time. Just by looking at an American calendar I can tell you the dates of the seasons in 2012 are: March 20th, June 20th, Sept 22, and Dec 21st.

In Sweden (and Finland) the seasons are determined according to a consistent 7-day temperature reading. Its Fall/Autumn because its been below +10°C (50°F) for long enough to consider the season change. When will it be Winter in Sweden? When it’s cold enough 7 days in a row (Below 0°C/32°F). This means that the seasons change at a different times all throughout Sweden since there is such a huge climate difference in the North and South.

Rain, Rain, go away…

Before moving here I didn’t really think about Sweden having a lot of rain, just the stereotypical land of snow. For the past two weeks it has rained at least a little (usually a lot) everyday, with an overcast hiding any proof of  sky or sun. I started wearing my light winter jacket and scarf this week, mostly because of the wind, but it reminded me that winter is coming and the days are getting shorter. Not that I wouldn’t mind the extra 15 degrees(F)/8 degrees (C)  in NYC, but I think  I’ve adjusted to the Swedish weather. I don’t mind the rain and cold as much and have gotten used to always carrying a sweater and umbrella all year round. Aside from the wind and rain it doesn’t feel like the temperature has dropped too drastically, but that’s because we had a chillier than normal summer. In fact, I read a newspaper article about Swedes needing to take extra D-vitamins to make up for the lack of sun this summer and  that the sick season will come early.

The end of summer means the end of some of my favorite things:

The hustle and bustle of tourists ended over a month ago, now the streets feel empty without all the outdoor dining and the sound of clanking plates and glasses.

Eating waffles in the open air  museum

Buying gelato from the local ice cream truck.

“The tower is closed. Welcome back next summer.” Looking over the town from above the trees.

I’m determined to spend the next few weeks of good weather taking long walks before it becomes too cold and dark. After that I think I’ll be baking cookies. Something to look forward to!

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