Something Swedish


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Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lessons Learned

If you’re wondering where I’ve been these last  two months, the answer is: LIVING LIFE! As terrible as I feel about not updating the blog, it feels great to be too busy to post!  When you first move to a new country you have so much free time because you have nothing to do: no job, no social life, no schedule. Now though, especially this past month, life has been filled with studying for tests, working here and there, fikas, writing papers, socializing, and everything in between.

In the spirit of enjoying working and studying a little bit more, I thought I would share some recent learning experiences since I’ve been away.

Lesson #1: “Det finns ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder.”

One of my part time/substitute jobs is at a daycare/preschool (2-6 year olds) a few times a month.  Working at a “dagis” in Sweden has opened up my eyes to many cultural differences about how we raise our children. A few weeks ago, one of these differences taught me a lesson that I will not soon forget.

Something we do with the kids everyday is go outside for an hour to a nearby clearing in the forest where the kids run around, play, and climb trees. It took me a while to adjust to this, but now it seems natural. What I didn’t think about is that we do this EVERYDAY, no matter the weather. Growing up, if the temperature is too cold or if it rains, or snows, or even looks like it might, we stayed indoors. A few weeks ago on a particularly cold, rainy, and windy winter day I went to work completely unprepared for this difference. While the kids were putting on their rain pants, rain boots, rain jackets, and rain hats, I realized that my jeans, sneakers, hat and jacket aren’t going to cut it here in Sweden.

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Another, sunnier, day outside with the kids.

For the next hour, I stood in the freezing rain – soaked – watching the kids splash in puddles and play in the mud and all I could think about was a well known Swedish saying to live by: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing

Lesson #2: You never know when, where, or how an opportunity can happen.

Moving to a new country often times means starting over. It also means a fresh slate. There are opportunities everywhere that you maybe wouldn’t have ever considered before because they aren’t in your interest or field. Moving can be a chance to expand.

Last month an opportunity was given to me that I never would have thought of pursuing on my own, offered by someone who I wouldn’t have suspected. One day I received an email from a classmate who, at the time, I’ve only spoken to once, who recommended me to a friend who was looking for an American voice for commercials. Sometimes opportunities are just that random and out of thin air.  I’ve recorded twice so far and it has been a lot of fun. It’s uplifting to know that new experiences are out there and that people try to help, even if they barely know you.

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Recording

Lesson #3: Volunteering is networking

Last week I went to a middle school to give some presentations to students aged 12-16 about my transition to Sweden, the differences between the two countries (size, population, animals, holidays, sports, food) and all about NYC. When my husband saw how many hours and how much work I put into my slideshow and found out that I committed to presenting for 5 hours without getting paid, he seemed concerned. Yes, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted afterwards, but I got to do something I love: teach. Best of all, I got to meet five wonderful classes of interested and curious students that were full of questions. I got to see how it is to teach this grade (I’m try to decide between pursuing middle school or high school) and got more of a feel for the school environment in Sweden. I met a lot of teachers and got a tour of the school. As a result of investing my own time into doing something for “free,” I’m now on the list of substitute teachers for that school. You have to put yourself out there to get something in return. Just the experience was rewarding enough, but you never know.

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Presenting

Lesson #4: Part time is okay

I can’t wait to get a steady full time job, but until then, I’m happy with what I have. It’s not easy getting started, and beggars can’t be choosers. Even if I only work once a week plus when someone is sick or on vacation, it is still experience and something to do. It’s still a way to stay in the loop and have a foot in the door. Nothing is too part time or too small when you relocate. For eight years I had the same job in NYC and this year alone I have: Tutored teenagers, prepped and served burritos, taught adult education classes, changed diapers, edited English research papers, done voice acting, helped kids with arts and crafts, spelling, puzzles and reading. I edit from home, tutor at the library, ride my bike 6 km/4 miles to get to the daycare/preschool,  walk to the office, and take the train to the next town over to teach – and sometimes a combination of those in one day. Even if it sounds chaotic and hectic – it’s better than last year when I had absolutely nothing to do. Part time jobs are a good start, especially if you are studying.

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Teaching

Read more about working in Sweden here.

Lesson #5: Don’t underestimate

Just because you have an education that doesn’t mean that starting school over again won’t be difficult. By the time I started my Swedish high school level adult education classes I was over the whole “back to school” thing and wanted no part of it. It felt repetitive, tedious and unnecessary to be back in school when I’ve gone to school my entire life. I just want to learn the language! Why do I have to do research and read books and hold speeches if I already know how to do these things? Because I don’t know how to do them in my new language. Little by little I’m learning to not underestimate how important these exercises are in order to improve my Swedish. Of course, I already understood this, but it’s about having the right attitude. Even if I feel like the assignments themselves are easy and below my level, it’s still good practice. Even if I am tired of studying and just want to start working, being in these classes are my best shot at getting a job. I complained of boredom when I first started my current classes, but in the end I had tons of challenging work to do. The level didn’t change, but I pushed myself harder – to read more difficult books and do deeper research to learn new words. It’s frustrating being back in school, especially high school, but it’s worth it.

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Learning

That was a little taste of what has been keeping me away from updating, more details to come!