Tag Archives: traditions

Midsummer in Scandinavia

June 19, 2018 | Leave a comment

 

Midsummer in Scandinavia

Midsummer, to Swedes especially, is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. In Sweden, the date moves each year, as it is an official holiday – and it is always celebrated on a Friday. With the official midsummer day of the year being 23 June, it is always moved to the closest Friday (for 2018, this is 22 June and 21 June for 2019). In Denmark and Norway, the date doesn’t move – it is always celebrated on the evening of 23 June.

In Sweden, Midsommar is simply known as that, whereas in Denmark and Norway
the name has changed to St Hans Aften (‘St John’s Eve’). That’s the official name, although it’s also known as Midsommer.

As the longest day of the year, midsummer was a very important day in the pagan
calendar. The Vikings used this night to visit healing water wells and had huge bonfires to ward off evil spirits. These celebrations go back to Freyia and Freyr, the Norse gods of fertility. The Vikings worshipped fertility on this day – and hoped for a rich harvest.

Today, you see the remains of these old traditions both in Sweden and Denmark.
Sweden’s midsummer symbol is now a midsummer pole, Midsommarstång, decorated with flowers. (It was originally a Maypole, likely brought over from Germany, but there weren’t enough flowers to decorate it in May so it is now used in June instead.) In Denmark and Norway (and parts of Finland), the bonfires won out and are still the main symbol of midsummer.

In Sweden, schools and offices close and it is the time for friends and families to get together. People wear flower garlands in their hair; some wear traditional dresses or just long, light-coloured dresses. Younger men wear traditional accepted Stockholm clothing for Swedish dudes: light-coloured, tight trousers, pointy shoes, fashionable sunglasses and slicked-back hair. Maybe a crown of flowers.

The flower garlands are a major part of the outfit. Most people make their own while
sitting in a field, waiting to celebrate and for someone to crack open the aquavit. People gather wild flowers and the garlands are made for grown-ups as well as children. This adds to the picture-perfect setting – everything becomes wonderfully colourful and happy, as people sit in nature and enjoy the lightest day of the year.

Thus properly attired, they gather to raise the midsummer pole, which is decorated with more flowers and leaves and can be anything from small poles in private
gardens to massive poles in the town centers.

Where food is concerned, everybody brings a picnic or has a midsummer lunch together. Lunch always consists of pickled herring, new potatoes with dill, meatballs, cheese… Not dissimilar to food at other Swedish celebrations, but with a lot more strawberries, as these are usually just in season when midsummer comes around. This is also a big day for smörgåstårta – a popular dish for high seasons. Essentially, this is a massive sandwich made with white bread, covered in a litre of mayonnaise and decorated in the best 1980’s style. Then eaten like a cake, by the slice. With this, people enjoy aquavit, in shots (nubbe). Roughly one shot to every two beers and Bjørn will be playing footsie with Gunhilde before you know it.

Drinking songs, such as ‘Helan går’, are sung, shots are enjoyed and after a few of those, almost everybody will feel ready to dance. Don’t worry if you can’t sing songs in Swedish, after two or three nubbar, people automatically develop a peculiar singsong fluency in Swedish. The party then gathers around the midsummer pole to hold hands and starts to run around in circles, pretending to be little frogs with no ears and tail. This is the traditional Swedish song – sung at every party – called ‘Små grodarna’ (the ‘Little Frogs’). If you are ever invited to join in, you must oblige. It would be rude not to and nobody feels embarrassed about this dance. Once it’s over, you’ll be allowed to get back to more food and aquavit.

The afternoon is usually spent playing games, such as Kubb (Viking chess) and an odd version of rounders called Bränball. When people have finished eating and playing, the dancing continues – as does the drinking. The party will go on until last man standing, with darkness never setting on this lightest day of the year.

On this night, it is also tradition to pick seven different kinds of wild flowers. Put them under your pillow before going to bed and you will dream of the person you will marry. This makes Tinder-swiping a whole lot easier as you will now know what he or she looks like.

In Denmark and Norway, people are a little more controlled in their midsummer celebrations. It is not a public holiday and, while it is still a big celebration, it is by no means as big as in Sweden. The celebrations centre around big bonfires, usually by the shore or in town centres. Bonfires, originally intended to ward off evil spirits, have become slightly warped in Denmark over the years. Nowadays, they signify the burning of witches. Each bonfire has a witch made out of straw, dressed in old ladies’ clothing and stuffed with whistle crackers. The fire is lit and everybody waits for the witch to catch fire, the whistles signifying her screams. Legend has it that, by doing this, you send the witch off to the Brocken mountain in Germany to dance with the Devil.

As they watch the witch burn, people sing songs about how much they love Denmark. There is usually a guy with a guitar and no socks. He plays songs slowly, with his eyes closed. There may or may not be skinny dipping. At midsummer in Denmark, kids will usually be making snobrød (‘twist bread’) – its bread dough wrapped around .a twig and baked on the fire. Except it never bakes, so you everyone ends up with a stomach ache from eating raw dough covered in jam. The fire ends and people go home. Unlike Sweden, this isn’t a massive party, but a much calmer affair (save the burning of witches, of course; some may find this rather sinister).

From the dancing and the ancient traditions to the seasonal food and togetherness, Midsummer in Scandinavia is an enchanted time and writing about it doesn’t do it full justice. The light is entirely spellbinding – and it’s something to be experienced. The day after Midsummer in Sweden, in particular, is a whole different ball game – and it’s yours alone to deal with. The ‘where are my shoes?’ questions will inevitably start to be pondered on. Who are you? Who am I?

For anyone who has partaken of a traditional Swedish Midsummer, the day after is likely to be long – and very slow. But you’ll always have the memories.

Or not.

ScandiKitchen is celebrating Midsummer – we even have a Midsummer pole and every year, we have to stop drunken Swedes from trying to walk off with it. All part of the fun. Stock up on your Midsummer foods in our London grocery store open every week day until 19:00 and Saturday until 18:00. Online here www.scandikitchen.co.uk

Extract MIDSUMMER taken from our Bronte’s best selling book Nørth: how to live Scandinavian, published by Aurum, with stunning photography by Anna Jacobsen. Get your copy on Amazon – it has everything you need to know to live a Scandi life, from Hygge to Lagom to how to wear a Norwegian jumper.

Available in Italian here
Available in German here
Available in French here

In America? Get it here.

In Canada? Get it here?

Get it signed here (or pop by the cafe in London, Bronte will be super happy to sign it for you and have a chit chat if she is around. She is not at all scary)

Easter in Scandinavia

April 2, 2015 | Leave a comment

 

After the long, dark nights of winter, Easter and the arrival of spring are truly celebrated in Scandinavia. Whether spent in the south welcoming the return of the spring flowers or spent escaping to the mountains in the North, getting in a few last runs on the slopes, Easter is a time of renewal for Scandinavians, celebrated with good food and good company (and perhaps the odd shot of aquavit or two). Peek into the history of the Viking north and you’ll find plenty of magic things that add to the richness of Scandinavian Easter celebrations.

Many of the Scandinavian countries have their own specific traditions associated with Easter, most of which stem from Christianity, but some of which have other origins and over the years have become part of the Easter holiday traditions.

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In Denmark, for example, the tradition of writing “teaser letters” still holds strong and has done since the early 1800s. A teaser letter is a pattern carefully cut into a piece of paper with a little verse written between the cuttings. The sender then adds dots in place of his or her name and encloses a snowdrop – considered to be the first flower of the year in Denmark and a symbol of springtime and lighter days. If the receiver cannot guess who sent the letter before Easter, the prize for the sender is a nice big Easter egg. If, however, the sender guesses, the prize goes to the recipient (although, miraculously, most parents never do seem to be able to guess which letters are from their own kids).

In Norway a slightly different tradition is associated with Easter, and perhaps a slightly unusual one at that, with no links to anything much historic: around Easter, publishers rush to churn out masses of what are known to all Norwegians as “Påskekrimmen” – literally translated as ‘Easter Thrillers’ – and bookshops are filled to the brim with newly published crime novels. This fascination with “whodunnits” even extends to mini-thrillers being published in obscure places such as on the side of milk cartons. So, if this Easter you happen to bump into a Norwegian who has his backpack stuffed with a selection of gory crime novels, an orange and a ‘Kvikk Lunch’ chocolate bar, it’s pretty standard fare.

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Sweden, on the other hand, has Easter celebrations that are deeply rooted in the old Christian witch-hunt times. The celebrations last from Maundy Thursday until Easter Monday. In the olden days it was thought that on Maundy Thursday, all the Witches would fly off on their broomsticks to the Blue Mountains in Germany to have a weekend of fun and dancing with Satan. Today, children in Sweden celebrate by dressing up as little witches, called påskkärringar (literally: ‘Easter Witches’): dressed in long skirts, headscarves, painted red cheeks and freckles. The kids go from house to house to collect money or sweets – this is the Swedish version of the North American tradition of Halloween.   The children sometimes also deliver an Easter Letter – the identity of the sender is always supposed to be a secret.

Easter time in Scandinavia is, of course, also about eggs – both the chocolate version, the version filled with sweeties, the painted version and the version that has a place on the traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord. In Sweden and Denmark, the traditional Easter lunch is pretty much the same as it is at Christmas time except minus a few of the heavier winter dishes. Plenty of herring, cured salmon with dill sauce, meatballs and beetroot salad and perhaps smoked or roasted lamb dishes. All washed down in the company of good friends and a bottle of something strong, such as the delightful aniseed flavoured Danish Aalborg aquavit.

Scandinavia comes highly recommended for Easter, whether you fancy walking through the budding green forests of Denmark in the south or feeling serene in the still snowy mountains of northern Scandinavia – there are certainly adventures to be had and beautiful scenery to be explored along with rich traditions in which to take part. Alternatively, be Norwegian right here at home and cosy up in front of the fire with a bunch of crime novels and dream of long summer days to come.

 

 

How to be more Scandinavian in your everyday life

March 18, 2015 | 132 Comments

Also known as: Quirky traits of the Scandinavian people.

We asked on Facebook and Twitter for your help on this. Thanks to everybody who came up with some awesome suggestions:

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The slicing of cheese

It’s a thing. A big thing (especially in Sweden). Do not cut the end of the cheese if it’s a triangle, always use a cheese slicer (never a knife, sacré bleu!) – and if you make a ski-slope (i.e cutting too much of one side without correcting it) you risk being outlawed.

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Using the right cheese slicer

What, you didn’t think there were rules for this? Of course there are rules. This is Scandinavia. The metal cheese slicer is for harder cheeses, such as Cheddar and Västerbotten. The plastic slicer is for cheese that are slightly softer, like Havarti (aka Åseda Gräddost), Herrgårdsost, Grevé – and some brown cheeses, too. And the cheese slicer with a wire on is for Danish cheeses such as Riberhus and Gamle Ole.

Look, we know its sounds complicated, but if you use the wrong one, your cheese will be cut wrong. See ‘The slicing of cheese’.

Speaking as you breathe in

Sometimes we say things while breathing in. Like ‘ja’. Try it, you will find it most peculiar.  A point to note, however, is that it is usually done when you agree on something – affirming the point by breathing in and saying ’ja’ at the same time. The further North, the less sound is needed More here

tacos

Friday night is for tacos.

Nobody is sure when it happened, but we only eat tacos on Fridays. Don’t ask, just do.

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Sweets are for Saturdays

It’s called Saturday Sweets. It’s also a thing. If you have them on Friday, then only in the evening and they its called CozyFriday. But on Saturdays, it’s Lørdagsslik or Lördagsgodis.

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Our obsession with coffee breaks

You will find very few Scandi work places that don’t have the fika/kaffepause at 11am and again in the afternoon (before we leave work at 16.30, because that’s also a thing – and nobody stays late). Usually with some sort of cake. The only acceptable drink is super-strength filter coffee – so strong that it hurts your nostrils and makes all the caffeine receptors in your brain think you’re back clubbing in a field in 1993.

I’m off on holiday in week 29…

We don’t count months, we count weeks. Nobody else does, which makes for interesting conversations. First week of January is week 1 – and so it goes. Forget months and days, it is all about weeks in Scandinavia. Easter is in week 14 this year. Now you know. We have no idea when that is, either. 

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Cheese & jam

It’s most certainly a thing. Toast, cheese and jam. Any kind. Even marmalade. Just embrace it. Cheddar and Strawberry jam is a thing.


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Salty, strong liquorice

Most Nordic people embrace salty liquorice. The stronger and saltier, the better. We just do not understand that you don’t like it. How can you not? It’s strong, makes your mouth feel like its on fire and gives you a tummy ache when you over do it. We start training our children when they are young so we are sure they develop a taste for it. For Scandi ex-pats, it’s a rite of passage to make sure their overseas-born children develop the taste too (we see them at the cafe, tempting little Ingrid with salty liquorice lollipops).

The top ones are Tyrkisk Peber, Djungelvrål, and chocolate with salty liquorice centres.

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Eurovision

Eurovision is huge. Huge. Especially in Sweden, where they have six regional heats just to find a representative winner. Even those who say they never watch it probably still do in secret. Eating tacos and Saturday sweets.

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Our home style

The first time you walk into a Danish apartment, you will think the owner is an interior decorator. Second time, you wonder if the owner of the first and second flat know each other. Third time, you realise every single apartment looks the same. White walls, white doors, Arne Jacobsen dining chairs, an Eames chair in the corner with a casually thrown sheepskin, Eva Solo or Blue Flute crockery.  We all have the same cutlery and, curiously, we seem to leave the stickers on them.

In Sweden, it’s the same except it’s a lot more IKEA mixed with stuff from our country cottages by the lake.

We really do eat a lot of meatballs

But the Swedish ones are not the same as the Danish ones, and the Norwegian ones are different too. Don’t confuse things. Learn the difference or get found out.

We have rules for the Smörgåsbord

There is a strict set of rules about when you eat herring and what bread you use for prawns and salmon. And at what point you start singing and cheering with aquavit. Eat open sandwiches with your hands and be forever excluded. No, we don’t write down the rules: You just need to know them.

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Look me in the eye…

When you cheer with Scandi folk, it is very impolite not to look everybody around the table in the eye before you take a sip. Skål!

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How you butter your bread.

Crispbreads usually have a bubbly side and a flat side. The flat side is for every day, the bubbly side is for Sundays. Some people disagree, so there are no hard rules, for once. Rye bread that has too much butter is called ‘tandsmør’ – literally, tooth butter. Meaning the indent of your teeth can be seen.

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The queuing system

In most shops – especially in Sweden – there are little ticket machines. Brits may remember these from supermarket deli counters in the 80s before they disappeared. Take a number as you enter and wait your turn. You never ever cheat. We like orderly queues, but are not very good at them, so this helps us. At bus stops there are no ticket machines, so it is your job to remember at what point you turned up. This is stressful. You know the other people will remember, so don’t mess it up.

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The Scandi look

So, you want to look like one of us? Then you need to decide which one of us you want to look like. You see all us Scandis as the same, but we have very clear differences between us (as illustrated here by the brilliant Jenny Blake).

A general rule of thumb:

Danish: If you own anything not black, get rid of it. You’ll probably never need it again. Buy oversized scarves, dye your hair very blond and wear it in a messy bun if a girl – or bed-head style if you’re a guy. Viking Beard optional.

More info about looking like a Dane here from this blog.

Swedish: Very blond hair. If you’re a guy, we recommend the ‘Stockholm Stureplan Brats’ look. Maybe. Well, try it and see if it fits you. Otherwise, just grow a beard and speak with a funny accent. If you’re a girl, get yourself some skinny white jeans and white converse all stars.

Norway: Beard. Definitely eat brown cheese, have a backpack stuffed with Kvikklunsj and oranges. Buy a sheep. Bring it with you to places*.

*(Okay, the sheep comment was added by a disgruntled Swede who has since been punished and sent on a long vacation to Finland. Norwegians don’t really have pet sheep). 

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But no matter who you choose to style yourself on, don’t forget to get a Fjällräven backpack.

Now, go forth and be a bit more genuinely Scandi.

If you like reading random bits about Scandinavia, sign up for our (sometimes slightly amusing) newsletter on our homepage (down at the bottom to the left) www.scandikitchen.co.uk

Love, The Kitchen People

Reasons the Nordic countries win when it comes to Christmas

November 14, 2014 | 3 Comments

We have snow. Real snow. Lots of real delicious fluffy picture postcard snow.

SNOW

Our countryside looks like this

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Santa is from up here.

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Okay, so we can’t quite agree where he actually lives. The Danes believe he lives on Greenland. The rest think he lives in Lapland. Or in Finland. Or both. We do know, however, that he lives up here somewhere. He’s one of us.

Father Christmas actually visits us for real. None of this ‘He’ll turn up while you’re asleep’ nonsense: We wait on Christmas eve and there he is. Okay, sometimes he’s had too much glögg, sometimes he looks like your Uncle Björn. Sometimes both. But he’s there, at your house.

We have Christmas elves.

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Actually, we have house elves all year round, but we believe in them mostly at Christmas time. Little mini elves with red Christmas hats – Lady elves, male elves… They live in our houses and barns and we put food out for them at Christmas time, because if we don’t, every idiot knows they’ll hide the remote control for the rest of the year.

We get to celebrate a day earlier than everybody else.

Our Christmas is 24th December in the evening. Some say this stems from Viking times when we believed a new day started as the sun went down – meaning at sun down on Christmas eve, we can celebrate. While everybody else has to wait until morning.

We have Julebryg.

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Delicious, amazing Christmas beer from Denmark. The fourth best selling beer in Denmark – despite only being on the market 10 weeks of the year. We have that, it’s a thing. Try it.

We have Glögg

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Red noses, red cheeks, sneaky kisses under the mistletoe.

It’s also our thing. No, not mulled wine. We don’t add drabs of left over stuff to our glögg, nor do we add half a litre of orange juice. No. We carefully blend spices, sugar and red wine… heat it up and add secret yuletide cheer to every pot. Why is Glögg so much better than mulled wine? Cardamom, pomerans, cinnamon cloves, ginger are the scents of a truly Scandinavian Christmas.

Turkey

Lucky us, we escape the turkey. Instead we have succulent roast pork… Or delicious sweet ham with mustard. Or dried lamb sticks. Or fish preserved in lye. Eh, yeah, lye. But it’s delicious.

Pigs: Little pigs made of marzipan. Without these, nobody can win the prize in the almond game.

We hide an almond in the Christmas dessert. Find it and get the pig and status of Marzipan Pig Winner. It’s prestigious.

A real tree

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Real, like, from the real forest. We don’t do plastic.

No tinsel.

We do clean lines, silver, gold and red. We don’t do flimsy tinsel.

90th Birthday party

Okay, this is New Year, but it’s as important as everything else. It’s a 10 minute sketch from yonks ago. We like to watch it every year. The same sketch, the same exact one. We always laugh. Its shown the same time every year. Okay, it’s a bit odd…

Donald Duck

We like to watch the same old seventies Donald Duck show, every year. At 4 pm on Christmas Eve. Everybody, the same time, every household (at least in Sweden). Also agree this may be a bit odd. In Norway, they watch ‘3 nuts for Cinderella’ instead which is a really old 1980’s Czech Tv movie about Cinderella and her, eh, three nuts.

Tree dancing

We hold hands and dance around the real Christmas tree. Together. The tree has real candles on it and someone usually singes their hair a bit. It all adds to the smell of Christmas.

Lucia

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13th December each year, we have the day of St Lucia, the festival of light. Boys and girls dress in white long robes and form processions in every town, bearing candles. This is the darkest night – and the darkest morning, broken by the bearing of light to fend off the darkness and dark spirits. We drink glögg, a girl is the town’s Lucia Bride and everybody knows it’s Christmas again.

Ginger biscuits.

We own those. They are ours. We rule at ginger thins.

Saffron buns.

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Swedes go nuts for anything with saffron, especially saffron buns. But other products containing saffron sell out too. Chocolate with saffron, other pastries with saffron. You can probably get saffron shampoo, too. Maybe. And saffron meatballs. Actually, that sounds gross.

Æbleskiver

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Little apple pancakes with no apples in them. So, like, doughballs. Dipped in sugar and jam. Danes go nuts for these. A great way to ensure you can have another Christmas beer.

Julmust

The Swedish Christmas coke. Outsells coke in Sweden every year. Coca Cola hates that. Swedes loves that. And nobody outside Sweden understands the obsession with Julmust.

Julebrus.

See above but replace Sweden with Norway. Norway’s Christmas soda. It’s a Norwegian thing.

Iceland has 13 different Santas.

Not content with just one, Iceland has 13 Santas, each one a Santa for a different reason and cause. Skyr Santa, Sausage Santa, Door slamming Santa and many more.

Christmas lasts a long time after Christmas.

We don’t put up our decorations until December. We don’t overdo it in the shops. We don’t put up the tree until we need it. And we don’t take it down on the 26th, either. We keep the tree until well into January sometime.

Fra alle os til alle jer:

God (for)Jul

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