The biggest and longest holiday of the year is the magical Christmas of Sweden. The excitement begins the first Sunday of Advent with the lighting of the first Advent candle. Each Sunday prior to Christmas, another candle is lit with growing anticipation.
Feasting and celebrating begin on December 13 with Lucia Day, which legend says is the longest night of the year and a time when man and beast need extra nourishment. A Lucia (Queen of Light) is chosen from each home, club, school, etc. She is dressed in a white gown with a crown of candles in her hair. She brings coffee, rolls, ginger biscuits, and occasionally "glogg" (a mulled wine). She is generally accompanied by a train of white-clad attendants. The girls wear glitter in their hair and the boys wear tall paper cone hats decorated with stars. While delivering their precious fare, they sing traditional Lucia carols.
The Swedish Christmas tree is not brought into the home until one or two days before Christmas. It is decorated with gaily wrapped candies, glass bulbs, and often straw trinkets, with electric lights or candles.
But the height of the Christmas celebrations is December 24, Christmas Eve. No work is to be done on this day except feeding the livestock and last minute preparations for the splendid Christmas meal. This is the famous Swedish "Smorgasbord." Dishes such as ham, jellied pigs feet, "lutfisk" and rice porridge are traditional. "Lutfishk" literally translated means "lye-fish" and actually is foaked in lye to make it soft and palatable. The rice porridge is made with an abundance of cram, sugar and cinnamon and whoever finds the whole almond in their porridge is expected to be married within the year.
After the meal, the "Tomte" comes. He is the Christmas elf who lives under floorboards of the hours or barn and looks after the family and livestock throughout the year. "Tomte" often brings presents and children graciously leave a dish of porridge for him during the night.
By tradition, Swedes attend church in the vary early hours of Christmas morning. Occasionally, as in olden days, the trek to church is made by horse-drawn sleighs. The ride often becomes a race to the church. It is believed the winner will have the best harvest in the coming year.
The Christmas spirit and enjoyment linger until January 14--Knut's Day--the day appointed to discard the Christmas tree and devour all the edible decorations. This is quite an occasion, especially for the young who occasionally dress as "Old Knut" and play practical jokes and chant as they fling the old tree into the snow, with a promise to reunite with their beloved pine in one year.
Traditional Dishes From Sweden
(Sweden Christmas Sausage)
2 lbs. lean pork, ground
2 lbs. lean beef, ground
6 med. potatoes, shredded (uncooked)
3 tsps. salt
2 tsps. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 med. onion, chopped
Mix all ingredients well together. Form into rolls about 4 inches long, 2 inches in diameter. Cut waxed paper or parchment paper into 6-inch lengths and warp sausage well, tying both ends tightly with string. Prick waxed paper with a fork (do not prick parchment) and place in kettle of simmering salted water. Cook slowly for about 45 minutes. This sausage is delicately flavored. Some people prefer slightly more seasoning.
"HAM A LA CAJSA WARG"
7 to 9 lb. ham, slightly salted
2 tsps. whole cloves
2 tsps. marjoram
2 tsps. allspice
2 tsps. rosemary
6 bay leaves
Ham which is to be roasted in an oven must not be too salty and should be placed in plenty of cold water for approximately 12 hours.
Remove the rind. Place the ham on a large piece of baking foil. Crush allspice, cloves, rosemary, marjoram and bay leaves in a mortar. Rub the spice mixture on all sides of the ham. Wrap the foil around the ham to make a tight package. Insert a meat thermometer through the foil so that the tip reaches the thickest and meatiest part of the ham. Place the ham in baking pan and bake it in the oven at 350F. The ham is ready when the thermometer shows 170F. "Ham a la Cajsa Warg" can be served hot or cold with boiled potatoes, mustard, red cabbage or other vegetables.
1 to 2 lb. head white cabbage
41/2 tbls. rice
11 oz. ground beef
Butter for frying
2/3 cup water
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup milk
Cut off the bottom part of the stem of a head of white cabbage. Cut the cabbage into shreds or pieces. Brown them in butter in a frying pan. Boil rice in 2/3 cup water and 1/2 tsp. salt for approximately 20 minutes. Let the rice cool. Mix ground beef with 1 1/2 tsps. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add the rice and 1 cup milk. Lay the cabbage and meat in alternate layers in a buttered oven-proof dish. The top and bottom layers should be cabbage. Bake in an oven at 350F. for 3/4 to 1 hour. Serve with boiled potatoes.