Tuesday, December 27, 2005

God Jul!

So what is special about Christmas in Sweden besides of course that this is the land of snow and reindeer?

First and perhaps best, there is no multiculturalism to spoil the fun. No Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, or baby Jesus crap; just guilt-free food and drinks. In Sweden Christmas is called "Jul" which has the same root as out English word "Yule" which refers to an old pagan midwinter feast. In short, Swedes recognize that Christians holiday-jacked an old pagan feast, they did not invent it.

One of the more savory traditions is the julbord, or "Christmas table". Swedes are always going on about their "tables", and perhaps the most used Swedish word in English also comes from this word, smorgasbord, which mean literally "open-faced sandwich table".

What is on a julbord? Just about everything, really. Normally the meal begins with a shot of snaps (spiced vodka) and some jul öl (Christmas beer) and cold herring in a creamy flavored sauce with warm potatoes. Some of the flavors for the herring sauce are quite creative and include mustard, garlic, wine, and even curry. Along with this one has delicious gravad lax (specially prepared raw salmon with sauce), caviar, hard boiled eggs, lunch meats, and crispy bread.

Oh yeah, and of course more snaps and beer. The way snaps is traditionally drunk in Sweden is in little shot glasses. Everyone downs the first one in one gulp. The next time everyone drinks half and then half again. Then it's a third. And by then almost everyone is buzzed and people go at their own pace. Technically snaps is between 70 and 85 proof, and it provides a much needed kick when too many relatives gather in one place.

After the 'appetizer' most people are already drunk and full. But then comes the main meal, a combination of as many meats as can be fit on the table including any combination of ham, beef, ribs, reindeer, and even occasionally bear. Then there is more snaps and beer and maybe a little wine if one is feeling sophisticated. For starch there is a the ever present potato dishes, red beets and other traditional dishes which every Swede could identify but certainly not I at this early stage of my Swedification.

After dinner Swedes have coffee and cakes and then perhaps a little stroll outside in the wintry sub-zeros the help the digestion process. After that it's glögg (spicy red wine with raisins and almonds) by the fire and a lot of bad singing.

Now for the real question... does Sweden have a Santa Claus? You betcha. Jul Tomten, or the "Christmas Troll", makes an appearance after dinner on Christmas Eve and hands out the presents to everyone. Normally an older male member of the family will dress up and actually do this, regardless if there are kids around or not. Christmas is a special time in Sweden where even the normally frugal (due to insanely high taxes) Swedes give generously to everyone.

In short, if you pick a day to be in Sweden, Christmas is not a bad day at all to do it. But don't be late, as the Swedes celebrate the eve of holidays, not the holidays themselves. Why? Think of all the extra days off work.

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