April 2, 2015 |
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.
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.
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.
March 18, 2015 |
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:
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.
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
Friday night is for tacos.
Nobody is sure when it happened, but we only eat tacos on Fridays. Don’t ask, just do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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Love, The Kitchen People
November 14, 2014 |
We have snow. Real snow. Lots of real delicious fluffy picture postcard snow.
Our countryside looks like this
Santa is from up here.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Real, like, from the real forest. We don’t do plastic.
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…
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.
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.
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.
We own those. They are ours. We rule at ginger thins.
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.
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.
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.
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: