So over the years my love for feeder birds has grown. Nothing like watching cute birds eat from the comforts of your own home. After the first snow here in Sweden I noticed more and more birds around the houses and in the trees. I asked my host dad, Anders, if we could have a feeder and he kindly made one outside my bedroom window! So far I have identified two birds. Kaja which look like funny priests (I saw them eating some trash in the snow on my way to school this week) and these little delightful friends Blåmes!
I have also been keeping my eye on Skata or the Eastern Magpie since arriving… a much more exotic looking bird from the crow family.
First full week of December is over and I am learning more about Swedish jultid (Yuletime) with each day.
- Taking a sled to school?
- Advent Stjärnor
- God Jul
Both at choir AND during one of our class fika breaks, we had glögg (the non-alcohol kind). In both cases it was a surprise and such a lovely effort by all the native Swedes! For those of you who don’t know glögg is a spiced wine that is warmed up and had during the holidays. I am used to this in isolation with just my immediate family… So it is still a bit amazing that there are other people out there who know what glögg is! YAY! Still waiting until closer to Christmas to have the alcoholic type, maybe once I have my last exam done on the 20th! In addition to the glögg we had…
Now that it has snowed, I have seen this many times… parents pulling children to school on sleds… Poor parents… Lucky Kids!!! I really should get a photo of this one day, but I’m usually running late to catch the train. It might also look awkward.
Wow, so yes, Swedes eat Pepparkakor and they call them Pepparkakor, not Ginger Snaps (cue the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah)! No blank stares when you say Pepparkakor here! In the US christmas cookies are big, so many kinds! Others I know will make dozens of 5 or 6 different kinds, but in my family there were really only two Swedish Spritz and my favorite Pepparkakor. But to be honest the store bought Anna’s Pepparkakor never quite lived up to the homemade ones my family made with our circle, angle and pig cookie cutters. At first I was a little taken back by the huge quantity of large Pepparkakor containers that popped up in all the supermarkets here, but then I realized that you simply have to have Pepparkakor with your glögg. Brilliant! Now, wait for it… whole new level… Pepparkakor with blue cheese on top! Hmmm I was skeptical but mmm delicious! So in addition to these wonders with the tasty store bought Pepparkakor, now I have also seen Swedes posting pictures of their homemade Pepparkakor dough on facebook and Anders also made up a batch of dough last night and it is chilling in the kylskåp (fridge or icebox as my dad calls it). Seeing all the love for this holiday staple from my childhood makes me so happy!
Today we made Lussekatter! I have been eyeing them in the stores but resisting since you really should wait until Lucia day (13th of December). For the past several years a box has come to me in the mail with several lussebullar packaged for eating on Lucia day, made by my mom, dad or sisters. But I was not expecting a shipment this year, so it was a real treat today to make them with my host family. Anders checked the recipe and we picked up the ingredients last night. This morning he started them off with melting the butter, warming the milk and getting it to the right temperature to add to the fresh yeast. (I actually smell yeast a lot around here in Sollentuna because the main yeast factory for Sweden and Norway is across the lake) Then I did the stirring as we added the sugar, saffron, salt, and flour. Then to let it rise, and while we were finishing Ida, Svante and Gustav arrived. Once the dough had risen I watched Anders make the Christmas Eve Morning Ring with about half the dough rolled out, coated with a almond paste, butter, egg mix, further toped with sugar and cinnamon. It is then rolled up and curled into a ring. You take snips in it and let is rise more. Then we all rolled out the rest of the dough into Lussekatter. I forgot how fun it is to make the shapes! Finally after another round of rising we brushed with beaten egg, added rasins to the Lussekatter, and both rasins and pearl sugar to the top of the ring and baked. Doftar bra (Smells good)! Had a little taste after and can not wait to eat more of these later in the week!
Many people living here in Sweden live in apartments, condos, or rowhouses, so you don’t see as many strings of lights outlining houses, icicle lights or bushes and trees covered. I have not seen any reindeer with lights or those blow up glowing balloon figures (personally thank goodness). However what you do see are star lights, candelabras or both in most windows. The stores are filled with Stjärnor (Advent Stars) and the lights to go with them. I’m still trying to find some good examples of this, but here are a few from my late afternoon walking in Söder.
I come from America… land of politically correct and controversy over the word Christmas. I admit that I have changed my tune and purposely write Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings rather than Merry Christmas on all my cards and letters because I know not everyone was brought up in the same faith as me. But I do think we can all enjoy the warmth and light that comes with celebrations this time of year. Anyway, Sweden (along with the other scandinavian countries) is known for being a country without very much religion or belief in God. However, the Swedish words for Merry Christmas, God Jul, have taken over as the general holiday greetings for this time of year. It is everywhere, shopping bags, ornaments, candle holders… What I understand so far is that Christmas celebrations as well as other traditions and events coming from a christian heritage i.e. advent, S:t Lucia songs, etc. are now more part of the Swedish cultural tradition than of current christian religous practice. They have transformed over the years from messages and symbols of a religious origin to simple seasonal acts which bring cheer to this dark time of year. Acts like putting up Advent Stjärnor unify the Swedish people in an entire month or so of traditions and celebrations to stay distracted from the cold and dark, and focus instead on the warmth and light within our family, friends and homes. It is lovely to see so many people genuinely excited about the celebrations at this time of year, without a fear or bitterness that they might offend others. So to my friends near and far Glad Andra Advent and an early God Jul! May everyone find as much joy in snow, candles, baked goods, and music as the Swedish people do!
Just a couple days before we entered December, a beautiful snow came and turned Sweden into a Winter wonderland! Below is the view I woke up to!
On Saturday, the first of December I woke up and started Laundry and tidying up a bit after busy week craming for an exam. Ida came over and set up the candles for advent with lav (lichen). Apparently this is what the reindeer eat in the winter!
Then it was off to do Christmas shopping for my family back home in the US. As I walked to the station, I had to stop and take a photo of the brilliant red berries standing out in the snow covered branches!
It was a bit cold walking around stockholm that day, but when you are going in and out of stores, (and carrying lots of bags ) the fresh air is so nice! When I finished my shopping in Vasastan, Östermalm, and Norrmalm, I headed back to Sollentuna to cook a tasty dinner with Ida and watch this weeks episode of Downton Abby.
Sunday, Första Advent, brought new adventures! It was a crisp cold morning, and although running late, I made it to Stefanskyrkan in Vasastan for the morning service. Being late I had to listen from the back door for about half of it, but it was worth it! My friends in S:t Johannes Kammarkör were singing much of the service and it was really beautifully done and a wonderful way to start the holiday season. Afterwards I set out to run a few more errands around town before heading home for our advent dinner and wrapping the julklappar (Christmas Gifts) for my family. It was just getting dark as I walked to Karlberg Station, and the light was beautiful over the snowcovered roads, bikes and buildings!
So I was curious what would Halloween be like this year living in Sweden. It was actually great… much less commercialism around the Holiday, just a few signs here and there.
On Drottninggatan I saw the sign snow above in tribute to the holiday!
Then Lena picked up the PERFECT pumpkin for carving and instead of going at it myself with a knife, I decided to share and let Lena carve her first pumpkin! It was awesome to share that experience with her. How to cut the lid and add a smoke notch. Scooping out the goop… saving the seeds to roast mmmm (they turned out good). Finally designing the face. I thought as it is the first one, how about we do a classic happy Jack-o-lantern. Lena did a wonderful job carving the design and then we tested it with a tea light. Perfect!!!
So, next thing on the list… candy shopping. Well Fun size was not very apparent in Sweden this time of year, so I picked up which ever candy I could find that was sold with individually wrapped pieces… perhaps a bit small for fun size, but all tasty! I also picked up a spider web for the door! And… the cutest little black pale that says GODIS, or swedish for Candy!
Oct 31st finally rolls around and naturally I have choir(Kör) that night, so before I left, I put a tea light in the pumpkin, covered the door with the spider web, put out my pail of GODIS and left a note saying Trick-or-Treat! Take one or two pieces of candy! From your USA neighbor.
When I came home that night, the pail was no longer over flowing! Yay!
But wait… there is more
Thursday, Nov 1st I hosted another one of our KI International Coffee Hours on campus after class. This was Halloween themed. The activity was to name 5 bones in the body for a free Fika! We also had extra candy to eat (my halloween leftovers) plus more snacks and I even brought the spider web in for extra action.
Then (eller sen)…
So I was home alone Friday night. After some food shopping on my way into the house I decided to light the pumpkin… it just felt right. So as while I was upstairs starting to cook, the doorbell range… hmm I thought. (Always a little awkward with phones and doorbells given my poor Swedish, I do not answer the house phone because I think I would just confuse people). Anyway, I came down the stairs and even though I had pulled the shade down on the back door so that only a few inches of window were showing… I saw some ghost eyes peeking in. TRICK-OR-TREATERS! AHHH I had given most of my candy away at the coffee hour yesterday. So I awkwardly opened the door they said something to me in Swedish. I only heard GODIS, and was like hmmm strange mute USA person as I put one sad piece of candy into each of their bags and then we all stared at each other for a couple seconds because I think I was supposed to say something, but all the swedish ran out of my head and in that moment I could hear them saying things in their heads like she is weird and only one lousy piece! But then they said Tack så mycket and I said varsågod. I would have given them more, but after the surprise Nov 2nd Trick-or-treaters I wondered ARE MORE COMING… well no not that night
BUT… Saturday or Swedish All Saints Day, I went to the market and picked up MER GODIS! yes! AND the family was home and we lit the pumpkin again. And what do you know… MER BARN! The doorbell rang twice. And the second time we had a witch, a zombie and a little princess. I told them they could have two or three pieces… in Swedish and it was AWESOME! So glad I picked up more Candy!
Later we walked up to the graveyard (Kyrkogård) in Sollentuna, next to Sollentuna Kyrka. They light candles at the graves to remember their loved ones. It was a special experience seeing all the lights in the darkness and remembering my own loved ones. Expecially my Mormor (Mother’s Mother) och Morfar (Mother’s Father) who passed this year. In the US graveyards generally seemed like scary, sad, desolate places. With Arlington being an exception. In Sweden, they are very well maintained and you can see the love and care that goes into them. They are beautiful places to walk and feel so filled with love. It is quite a different experience for me. Our walk was beautiful and I love seeing all the old and new Swedish names!
Jag hoppas att alla hade en glad halloween och en väckra allhelgonadag!
One of the reasons I wanted to move to Sweden was so I could sing in a Swedish choir… I know that is everyone’s greatest dream, Right? Well, I have been singing in choirs since I was a little girl so naturally I wanted to keep music in my life here as well. Part of what makes Sweden so special is that everyone sings. They have songs for everything and anything… really! The other night my host parents were talking about going to bed and broke out into this one… Säng säng säng (Bed, Bed, Bed)
So there are special songs to go with celebrations and activities too like birthdays, midsommar, kräftskiva, and Sankta Lucia; along with flowers, fruits and vegetables, the weather… you name it. But I will save some of those for another time. In addition to these songs, Sweden has a wonderful choral tradition. I was lucky enough to audition and be accepted into the choir group, A Scapella, at Karolinska Institutet’s student organization, Medicinska Föreningen. So now one night a week I go to a choir rehearsal that is all in Swedish… It is a good thing I know a few words in Swedish and that I’ve spent so long singing! I’m thankful that I not only have the chance to sing here, but that this also will help improve my Swedish!
Below is a song, Baba Yetu, from my first concert with A Scapella! I am standing over on the left.
After we finished our concert my host mom, Lena, and I rushed out to make it to hear First Aid Kit play at Cirkus! They are a Swedish sister duo whose popularity is growing not only in Sweden but around the world too. I missed seeing them in the US before I left, so seeing them perform here was at the top of my to do list upon arrival. It was an amazing show and Idiot Wind had a great opening set to! Figures crossed my budget and schedule allow me to see a few more shows while I am here.
You can listen to one of their most popular songs below! Enjoy!