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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:

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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.