Something Swedish


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The Plundering of the Tree

Sounds dramatic, I know.

Up until yesterday I thought it was an old tradition of the past; some obscure thing I had read about while doing research on Christmas when I first moved here. Then when sitting around for morning fika on Friday, my co-worker mentioned she was going to a Julgransplundringsfest (“Christmas tree plundering party”) this weekend, which piqued my interest.

Tomorrow, the 13th of January, or the twentieth day of Christmas as we call it (“Tjugondedag” or “Tjugondedag jul” or “Tjugondag knut” or “Knutsdag”), is the last day of Christmas here in Sweden. Unlike the majority of other countries that put away their decorations on Epiphany, the 6th of January, we get one more whole week with ours! Its not that we don’t observe Epiphany here; we do (even though Sweden is a secular country with 55% of the population reporting as “nonreligious”). In fact, its a national holiday called “Trettonsdag” (“The thirteenth day” as in the 13th day of Christmas- not to be confused with the “twentieth day” which falls on the 13th of January…confused yet?) Instead of taking advantage of that national holiday (which means most have day off of work) to take down Christmas decorations, its tradition to wait a week until Knutsdag (Knut being the name of a Danish king, later declared a saint, who would notoriously ask farmers to help him wrap up holiday season).

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Image: Wikipedia “Knut’s dance or Dancing out Christmas, by Swedish artist Hugo Hamilton (1802–1871)”

So, what does one do on knutsdag or at a julgransplundring aside from putting away their decorations? It’s a little more special than that, because you are saying farewell to Christmas. In the old days, children would run to their neighbors to “ropa ut julen” (“To call out Christmas”) essentially declaring its over, and while doing so they would be asking for any left over food and drink from the festivities. It was a day where one would “Kasta ut granen” (“Throw out the tree”) quite literally throwing the trees from windows and balconies, littering the street. Nowadays, its a phrase still used but its done in a more organised manner (and more people own reusable artificial trees). If dumped correctly, some towns use the discarded trees for the bonfires at Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) in the spring.

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So, what is Julgransplundring? And how does one plunder a tree? Its simple, it all depends on what you put on the tree to begin with. It’s where you get together and feast upon all the edible stuff you hung up on the tree a month ago, or decorated with in general. This is also known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”). Its time to eat all the candy canes (polkagris), apples, chocolates, caramels, candy ornaments, and of course the beloved gingerbread house! Some households might even cook Christmas food (again!) to enjoy one last time.

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The looting of everything edible left over from Christmas can also be accompanied by songs and games.

“Snart är glada julen slut, slut, slut.
Julegranen bäres ut, ut, ut.
Men till nästa år igen,
kommer han vår gamle vän –
ty det har han lovat.”

There’s also the tradition of Dansa ut julen “Dancing out Christmas” which means to dance around the Christmas tree before you toss it out the window (or store it in the attic) to say goodbye to the Christmas season. Some towns in Sweden even hold a public event for the occasion:

Julskakning

Join us dance out Christmas! Maud Mithande leads the dance around the tree, there will be free warm drink and gingerbread cookies and every child gets a candy bag to bring home”


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How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden?

I got a call a few minutes after midnight last night from my brother wishing me a Happy New Years. He left a voicemail and while doing so, perplexed himself – and me –  with the following realization “Hey Meg, just calling to wish you a Happy New Year! I know the ball just dropped by you….wait – do they drop a ball there? What drops? What do you do?”

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Honestly, I didn’t know. How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden? I’ve been living in Sweden for 8 years and wasn’t really sure what constituted for being Swedish tradition since tradition is local to the cities or towns you live in and the households you grew up in, or shaped by the company you keep. Image result for queens denmark new years speechFor the past 5 years we’ve celebrated in Denmark with a group of friends– the tradition there being to watch the Danish Queen give her speech about the year that passed and the year to come (and a friendly drinking game to take a sip every time she messes up saying what she is trying to say). Every year I understand more (with subtitles on, of course) and enjoy the tradition more, not needing to wait for the cue but hearing/reading the subtleties myself. I always like listening to the speech, the drinking part is just a fun way to get the party started.

But alas, this year we were sick and had to stay home – so a last-minute Swedish New Year’s celebration it would be, just the two of us and a lot of tissues. So, what DOES drop in Sweden? I mean, I know we don’t have a giant glowing 700-pound disco ball descending down a huge flagpole like the one in Time Square, but what do we do instead? My first thought was that surely our royal family also has a speech on New Year’s Eve, but no, no they do not. This is instead done on Christmas, apparently. I’ve never actually watched it – or knew about it until writing this post. Something new to do next year.

And so, I reflected, I pondered, I asked, I googled, and I procured a little list – How DOES one celebrate New Year’s in Sweden?

The Watching of the Dinner

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“Same procedure as every year”

It turns out that Sweden and Denmark DO have a New Year’s tradition in common: watching the short sketch “Dinner for One” about an upper-class Englishwoman having her 90th birthday party dinner with her now deceased friends, in which her butler pretends to be each of them – and thus drinking for four people. “Grevinnan och betjänten” (The countess and the butler) has been aired every year in Denmark since 1980 and in Sweden since 1969 (banned in Sweden from 1963-1969 due to the heavy alcohol consumption).  Our friends in Denmark were surprised that we were watching it so early here in Sweden, at 19:45 (7:45pm), while it is aired later there – making it easier to drink along with Miss Sophie and her four “friends”.

The Reciting of the Poem

New Year’s eve is a celebration, everyone knows that. There’s always live music and concerts being aired on television to kick off the upcoming year. A few minutes before the clock tolls midnight, we are met with a somber reading of a classic poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells” (called “Nyårsklockan” in Swedish). Written by a British poet in 1850, the text was translated and introduced as a Swedish New Year’s tradition in 1895. The translation is a lose one, having taken many liberties with the text, cadence, and structure – making it more it’s own.

From 1895-1955 the poem was almost exclusively read by the same actor, when he died the tradition was put on hold until 1977/1978 (when “Tolvslaget på skansen” first aired on SVT, Swedish Television). A total of four actors recited the poem from 1977-2014, when the tradition was changed to having a different actor each year instead.  Each person having their own way of reading, leaving something new to discuss each year (some omit certain lines, some time it perfectly with the bells tolling at midnight, others ending too early or too late – making the toast and countdown a wild card.

                                   2020 poem

The Lighting of the Sky

Around midnight is when the magic happens. Fireworks, that is. That’s the biggest way Swedes show that the New Year has arrived. Not confetti, not honking horns, not banging on pots and pans, not balloons. Just a ton of fireworks lighting up the night sky. It might not be unique, but it does mean bringing in the new year with a bright colorful bang. Come midnight you’ll see balconies filled with spectators waiting for a light show. Until recently, fireworks have been easily available to purchase in Sweden. Just this year (june 2019) certain types became more regulated, requiring obtaining permits and attending special training courses to be able to buy and use…but we didn’t notice a difference.

The Throwing of the Shoes

An old tradition that I’ve only read about. My husband confirmed that he has heard about it and maybe even done it as a child – so I don’t know how relevant this one is, but I’m gonna include it anyway! Come midnight everyone is to throw their shoe at the door and see how it lands. If your shoe falls facing the door it can mean moving or change.

The Listening of the Song

This is by no means an actual tradition, but it couldn’t go without mentioning because surely “Happy New Year” by Swedish pop band legends ABBA must get played more in Sweden than anywhere else on New Years Eve (I have no statistical data for this, as it is just for fun)

 

There are probably a hundred different ways to celebrate New Year’s eve, and there’s probably a lot of “traditional” things I am missing (one list mentioned ordering Kebab pizza and watching Ivanhoe, which has been aired on New Years Day for decades – but I was more interested in the eve). So, the question isn’t “How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden” but, “How do YOU celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden?” Are your traditions inherently “Swedish” or created by your friends or family? Do you have anything to add to the list? Let’s hear it! And let’s have a great 2020!

Gott Nytt År Från Sverige! Happy New Year from Sweden

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SKÅL!


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Swedish Advent: A Christmas Countdown

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Today is the fourth advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, the day for lighting the fourth and final candle of the adventsljusstake. Christmas is almost here.

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Four Sundays before Christmas (somewhere between the 27 nov -3 dec) the long, dark, cold nights leading up to winter solstice are brightened by the appearance of glowing Christmas stars and advent decorations illuminating the windows of almost every store, office building and home. While walking down any street at all, the collective and uniform effect of all these lights creates the magical, warm coziness of Christmas.

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The electric advent decorations are typically five or seven lights instead of four, giving a symmetrical triangular shape, perfect for displaying in windows.

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And so, the first advent candle is lit – but not for too long, it has to last for four weeks. Glögg med russin och mandel (mulled wine  with raisins and almonds) is warmed on stove-tops and enjoyed with pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and lussebullar (Saffron buns). Advent presents are stuffed into stockings each sunday leading up to Christmas, building to the anticipation.

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The well-known tradition of advent calendars is taken one step further than the joy of opening  cardboard windows to reveal a piece of chocolate everyday. On the first of December stores reveal their version – a julkalender (Christmas calendar) to showcase what super-deals they have to offer each of the 24 days. The local TV channel TV4 has a tradition of airing a different “Julkalender” every year – a mini series with a new episode each day at the same time (25 minutes) for the children (and adults) to enjoy while waiting for the big day to arrive.

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How do you celebrate the advents? We dedicate these sundays to christmas-y things: putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, going Christmas shopping (most stores are closed on Sundays in Sweden – but are open on the advents!), visiting julmarknad (Christmas markets), watching Christmas movies, having a plate of traditional Christmas food at home or going to a restaurant for julbord (Christmas table), wrapping Christmas presents. All while enjoying the coziness of the advent candle(s) and the tastiness of glögg.

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Jag önskar er en god jul och gott nytt år!


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International Midsummer Celebrations

It is almost the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, which means that it is almost time for the biggest holiday in Sweden: MIDSOMMAR (Midsummer)

Here in Sweden we like to celebrate everything on the eve, or the “afton” which means that our eating of “new” potatoes, herring, eggs, and strawberries while ingesting vast amounts of alcohol (only after singing drinking songs), dancing around a pagan fertility pole (usually in the rain) starts on Friday.

If you have no idea what Midsommar is then this video can help:

If you live in Sweden, you probably already know all about Midsommar and have plans to celebrate – or hopefully have someone to show you the ropes (If not, read this old post The magic of Midsummer)

Not in Sweden but want in on the fun? You might be in luck! There are Swedish midsommar celebrations outside of Sweden. It’s a fantastic way to get a feel for Swedish culture, food, music, games, tradition, language and to meet some Swedish people!

1.  New York City, USA. (Pictures of last year’s celebrations)

Friday, June 19, 5-8 pm
Robert F. Wagner Park
Battery Park City in lower Manhattan
Rain or shine

2. California, USA (Flyer to the event details)

Sunday, June 28, 2015
8:30 am – 6:00 pm
Vasa Park, Agoura
$5 admisssion

3. London, UK  (Pictures from last year’s celebration)

Saturday June 20th
Hyde Park
12:00 – 7:00pm

4. Berlin, Germany (Facebook group with info on tickets)

Friday, June 19th
4:00pm – onward
Urban Spree

5. New Jersey, USA (Flyer with details)

Saturday, June 27th
Vasa Park
10:00am
$10 adult admission

 6. Michigan, USA (Swedish American heritage Society of Michigan)

Saturday, June 20th
11:00AM-4:00 PM
Grand Rapids, Alaska Avenue
$12 admission

7.  Vancouver, Canada (Event program)

Saturday, June 20th & Sunday June 21st
9:00am -11:00pm &  10:00am-4:00pm
Scandinavian Community Center
$10 admission


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How Swedish are you?

As a follow up to my last post about becoming Swedish and getting Swedish citizenship – I’ve compiled a list of 40 things that can help determine how Swedish you are!

(Yes, some of these are exaggerated, generalizations, stereotypes, might not apply to all Swedes, or has nothing to do with being Swedish – but they are all things that I have either noticed or experienced since moving to Sweden and are meant to be read for fun)

Don’t forget to keep track of how many you answer “yes” to to find out how Swedish you are at the end of the test!

So, how Swedish are you?

1. Do you pick wild flowers, mushrooms, or berries at least once a year?
Allemansrätten, Mushroom Picking
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2. Do you looove lösgodis (loose candy)?
Lösgodis
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3. Do you regularly eat open faced sandwiches for breakfast or mellanmål (snack)?

4. Do you put butter on all said open sandwiches?

5. Have you spent at least one winter in Thailand?
Snowfall

6. Did you grow up watching the same snippets of classic Disney movies every Christmas?
Swedish Cartoons
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7. Is it true that you have never painted any of your walls any color but white (not counting wall paper)?

8. Do you bike to work, school, and/or to go food shopping?
Biking

9. Is pasta incomplete without ketchup?
When in Rome
Pasta Ketchup

10. Do you wear socks with your sandals?

11. Is your preferred way of confrontation writing angry or passive aggressive notes towards your neighbors?

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“Remove your time slot, you fucker, if you aren’t doing laundry!” (Found this in our laundry room last week)

12. Do you believe there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing?
Lessons Learned

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Swedish saying: “Det finns ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder”

13. Have you ever slept with flowers under your pillow?
Midsummer

14. Have you ever traveled long distances to buy booze (say out of the country, to Denmark or Germany for example) to save money?
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15. Have you ever dressed up as a witch for Easter or Santa for Christmas?
Glad Påsk, Witches in Sweden,
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16. Do you and your friends always have a few drinks at home before going out to the bar (förfest)?
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17. Have you ever worn a crown of flowers on your head?
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18. Do you enjoy fika (social coffee break with sweet pastries) at least once a day during work hours and sometimes again afterwards with friends?
First Fika, Cinnamon Rolls, Working in Sweden
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19. Have you ever danced like a frog?
Midsummer
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20. Do you smash words together to create new words that you wouldn’t find in the dictionary, but everyone understands you anyway? (AKA do you speak Swedish?)
Language Mishap

21. Have you ever had to cancel plans because you had a laundry time booked or used laundry time as an excuse to get out of plans?

22. Does the idea of buying pre-sliced cheese when you can cut it yourself perplex you?

23. Have you ever worn a reflective vest at some point as an adult?
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24. Do you dread winter, not because of the darkness or cold, but the fear of getting the inevitable “vinterkräksjuka” (winter puking)?

25. Do you eat burgers and/or pizza with a fork and knife?
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26. Do you proudly shop at loppis (flea markets) and show off your finds to all of your friends?
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27. Have you ever eaten Swedish meatballs? (Maybe at IKEA?)
kottbullar

28. Is there nothing you look forward to more than the first semla of the year?
Semlor Galore, February, Cooking Semlor
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29. Do you occasionally look at the time, panic, and rush out the door to buy a bottle of wine for the upcoming weekend?
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30. Have you ever painted furniture white?

31. Do you sharply inhale to say ‘yes’, agree, or to acknowledge that someone is speaking?

32. Do you always, always, always take your shoes off when you enter a (any) house or apartment?

33. Do you go food shopping at least four times a week instead of in bulk?
Swedish Supermarkets
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34. Is locating the number machine to queue in line the first thing you do when you enter a store?
Nummerlapp

35. Can you eat knäkebröd (hard bread) without getting crumbs everywhere?
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36. Have you ever sang in unison with your friends or family before taking a shot of snaps?
Cheers! Skål!
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37. Is it true that you have never met your neighbors and you like it better that way?
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38. Does your name have a birthday (namnsdag)?

39. Can you read the words ‘slut’ (end) and ‘fart’ (speed) without giggling?

40. Are you really good at recycling?
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If you answered yes to:

36 – 40: You are extremely Swedish! You are a Swede that loves Swedish traditions and culture!
31 – 35: You were born, raised, and have lived in Sweden your whole life!
26 – 30: You are a born Swede living abroad or you moved to Sweden 10+ years ago!
21 – 25: You were born in Sweden and moved away when you were young, but have spent every summer there!
16 – 20: You moved to Sweden within the past 5 years!
11 – 15: You have Swedish relatives or are dating/close with someone Swedish!
06 – 10: You have visited Sweden!
00 – 05: You have no Swedish friends or relatives and have never visited Sweden.

Leave a comment with your result and how accurate it was! (Keep in mind this is for FUN!)


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Holiday Greetings in Swedish

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What do these Holiday greetings mean? How do we translate them? When do we use them?

God, Gott, and Glad

These are all different ways to wish someone a holiday greeting, depending on which holiday.

It’s hard to not see an English word and its meaning when you read a foreign word that is spelled the same way. The word ‘God’ in Swedish is not referring to the religious entity. ‘God’ in Swedish means Good/Happy/Merry and is pronounced like ‘Good’.

Sometimes you will see ‘Gott’ instead. This is purely a grammatical difference and means the same exact thing thing. An example: ‘God Jul och Gott Nytt År’ means ‘Merry/Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year’. In Swedish the word ‘Year’ (år) is an “ett” word, making the whole sentence sprinkled with ‘t’s’. Otherwise people would say ‘God Ny år’, which means the same thing, but is not proper Swedish. Mystery solved!

So, we know what God Jul and Gott Nytt År mean…but what about these?

‘God Fortsättning’

If you know a little bit of Swedish you’ll catch that ‘att fortsätta’ means ‘to continue’, so the literal translation to this is ‘Good Continuation!’ But what does it mean!?
For weeks after Christmas you will hear people greeting each other with ‘God Fortsättning!’ as a way to wish each other a belated holiday. In NYC we would simply wish someone a Merry Christmas if we hadn’t seen them since. That doesn’t work here in Sweden though, hence this special greeting. If you wish someone a ‘God Jul’ on December 26th it would be considered strange, because…well, it’s no longer Christmas.

The ‘God fortsättning’ greeting lingers around until about the 7th of January (the 12th day of Christmas/Epiphany), but after January 1st it is a continuance of New Years that you are wishing people.

This time of the year isn’t the only time people use the phrase ‘God fortsättning.’ It could be used to wish someone a continuation of any holiday, but Christmas and New Years is when you hear it in mass amounts.

‘Gott Slut!’

So, this is another one of those ‘it doesn’t mean what it looks like’ words. The word ‘slut’ has nothing to do with sex, the same way the word ‘god’ has nothing to do with religion. ‘Slut’ in Swedish means ‘end’ and is pronounced like ‘sloot’. A very innocent word that everyone gets a good chuckle out of. So what does it mean? This is very specifically used to wish someone a good end to the year up until the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31st. This isn’t a very common phrase, but it exists nonetheless.

‘God Helg’

‘Helg’ means ‘weekend’ in Swedish, but this is not how you tell someone to have a nice weekend (That would be ‘Trevligt helg’). This is how you would wish someone a Happy Holiday – even though the word for ‘holiday’ is ‘högtider’ (high times).

I hope that everyone has had a good holiday season. I have a lot planned for Something Swedish in 2015 – so keep an eye out (And sorry for not being around more in 2014)

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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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Nollning: Sweden’s School Hazing

A side effect of living near a university in Sweden this time of year is that for a few weeks it feels like living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Let me explain.

Mid-Late August means classes start back up, which means new students, which means “Nollning” takes place: a ten day “orientation.” The direct meaning  translation of “Nollning” is “Hazing” but it’s not exactly done the same way. Sure, it’s an “initiation” or “rite of passage” of new students, but there isn’t the same negative connotation to it like in the U.S. At least, not anymore, or as much as before – over the years most schools in Sweden have been making an effort to make it a more positive and fun experience.

The word “Hazing” in North America is associated to physical or sexual harassment, abuse, and humiliation to become an accepted member of a sorority or a fraternity, which is often illegal and not associated to the school.  In the worst spectrum of hazing can range from being kidnapped to being beaten, being abandoned to being forced to commit a crime. Swedish “Nollning” on the other hand means “Zeroing” because students are at the “zero” level: they have yet to start year 1 of college, they are new and don’t have friends. The idea of nollning doesn’t have the same cringe-factor as hazing, unless you consider singing and dancing competitions to be particularly cruel. There is of course a lot of being yelled at and doing somewhat embarrassing things, but from what I’ve read and seen it seems a lot more open and fun. Sure, sometimes some people take it too far like anywhere else, but the intentions are not as malicious.

Instead of being initiated into a sorority or a fraternity, Swedish students are being welcomed into the program they are studying. Nollning is an accepted tradition of the school culture in Sweden, even recognizing it as a student event: Check out photos and info HERE and HERE. Schools are organized with the official events and activities of nollning, making sure everything is safe by organizing student union pub nights, providing low % alcohol, and making sure there is crisis training in case of emergencies.

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In North America “hazing” is optional in the sense that the majority of students don’t care about being part of something extra like a sorority or fraternity, and not all of them have such rough hazing rituals. Nollning is something that many (About half) new Swedish students choose do to be a socially accepted part of the program, to have fun, make friends, and party before school begins.

In Halmstad this means seeing students walk around in overalls of all different colors, each color representing a major: Engineering, IT, Mathematics, Humanities, etc. You’ll usually spot them walking in large groups, like a flock of birds. The overalls are written on or covered with patches. Where does the Dr. Seuss part come in? It’s the colorful and huge wigs, crazy sunglasses, weird masks, animal hats, and the funny voices they have to use to talk  with (Sounds like a robotic voice). It’s a bit surreal around here for a while. There are activities and games that they play together, or competitions against other “teams” (other colors or programs) so that they become a community before school starts. If you miss Nollning it might be a little bit harder for you to make friends in your classes, having missed the “head start” bonding.

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There are “Zeros” (New Students) and Leaders (Second year students who lead the nollning) The leaders are the ones who speak with the robotic voices and wear the colorful overall outfits/masks/Wigs to hide their true identity from the zeros during the Nollning, which is revealed on the last day. Meanwhile the “zeros” wear colorful shirts, necklaces and headbands with their names written across so that everyone gets to know each other. Originally I thought it would be the opposite, since making new students dress in silly costumes seems like something under the idea of “hazing”, but it’s the other way around.

Video of some Nollning activities in Halmstad (No sound, sorry):

Having only observed Nollning from afar, if anyone would like to enlighten me a little more on the topic, feel free to share! I can’t figure out why some people have strips of different colors at the bottom of their overalls, for example. Have you seen any Nollning activities?


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Someone, Somewhere, Something: A Transcontinental Love Story.

(Written a year and a half ago, never posted, newly updated. Happy 2 year Anniversary!)

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Everyone has a different form of love, success, opportunity, or happiness that they don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both, my “Something Swedish” you can say.

Five years ago I met my “someone,” in a somewhat strange way, having only spoken through Skype and video games, proving that the world is truly a small place. It was the first time he stepped foot in a plane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden.

I was expecting to meet “someone,” unaware he’d introduce me to two “somewheres” – one of which was in my backyard my whole life, unexplored. The other, on the other side of the world.

I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has something for everyone (who knew?) When growing up in New York it’s easy to overlook all of the sites, attractions, culture, and history around you and at your fingertips, not recognizing why millions of tourists flock to the annoyingly crowded area of Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can simply take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan of how to see/do as much as possible in just one week. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.

It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. (Since then we’ve become more of sight seers and shoppers, but still enjoy a good museum from time to time) First I brought him to a childhood classic; The Museum of Natural History, a staple for N.Y.C. school kids to learn about science, history, animals, and geology through impressively gigantic exhibits – the most memorable being the model 94-foot blue whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex in the lobby.

A tourist in my own backyard, I wondered how I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the famous white curves of The Guggenheim.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) greeted us with contemporary exhibitions of photography, film, architecture, typography, and design. The Cloisters showcased a collection of European sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, gardens, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries.

We were drawn to the bright lights of Times Square where we instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night, leaving us thirsty for more. (Making sure never to make that mistake again, seeing something every visit: Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sleep No More) Instead we soaked in our surroundings: the huge stores and flashing lights, and the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting on the streets.

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Seeing Manhattan together let me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. We taught each other how to navigate the named streets and the subway system. I took him downtown, away from the large crowds into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town where we ate cannolis and Chinese food. We took a tour boat around Manhattan, passing by the iconic Statue of Liberty.

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I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

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We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the iconic Empire State building (and the next year finding the even more breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center). A horse and carriage ride through Central Park was the perfect end of the evening.

We even escaped the grasp of Manhattan. Something that most tourists don’t get to do, know to do, or care to do. He taught me how to see Manhattan and I taught him that there was more to New York City than the “city”. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge, bringing us to where the most beautiful Manhattan skyline photos are taken.

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I took him off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of NYC. We went to the Queens botanical garden and Flushing Meadow Park, were the worlds fair was held in 1939 and 1964. We went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks (with the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S., the Cyclone, and the iconic Wonder Wheel),

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walked along the famous boardwalk, and enjoyed the food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. We ate traditional Coney Island food: Nathan’s hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and Italian ices followed up by his first American baseball game. (Which has since  become a tradition)

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Five months later it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to trace back the history of my heritage in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Italy, but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream – “something” other people do. I never thought there would be a “somewhere” other than New York City.

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I took the same 10 hour flight and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. I didn’t know much about many other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from school, movies, and television. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. To my relief most Swedes speak English extremely well.

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My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the cobblestone streets I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore. Everything was picturesque – the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the abundance of fountains and statues.

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It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in another country and its culture – with him. It was my “something” – both Someone and Somewhere. I enjoyed Sweden without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. In that way, my trip to Sweden was different than his trip to NYC. Just being there was enough. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.

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We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me but I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden. Maybe I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goer- but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.

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Since then I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I’ve endured through the harsh winters when there’s only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.

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Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve adapted to stores being closed on Sundays and buying Swedish groceries. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that every Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country.

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We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.

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I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as six years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning the Swedish language, going to Swedish school, making Swedish friends, and working at Swedish places.542887_10151033620320628_1458500220_n

I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden instead of “Cheers” while drinking snaps at every holiday dinner.

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I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot there even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, gain the courage to socialize, and adapt.

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Since his first visit in New York, my “someone” and I traveled back and forth between our two “somewheres” twice a year for three years, experiencing something new each time. We have explored and experienced each place together. Not only do I now feel more comfortable in Sweden, but NYC is now a home away from home for him.  We can compare our experiences and each  country more and more each time we travel back and forth. Each time is like a vacation and visiting home all wrapped in one.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith.

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