Remember that I mentioned the Swedish tradition of people drinking glögg and eating saffron buns? Well, this tradition extends over the entire festive season: say, December and January.
When I first tasted these Lucia buns of saffron, I wondered why on earth anyone would eat something that tasted of medicine and looked as if it were made out of neon yellow plasticine.
However, just like facial hair, the buns grow on you (as it were) and I do enjoy a saffron bun or three at Christmas time.
The Swedes usually make them in the traditional S shape (so that they look like sleeping cats), but in our household, we do not like to be constrained by tradition and we create all kinds of fantastic figures: letters of the alphabet, horses, dogs, snails, flowers, toadstools, snowmen – you name it!
I may not be able to cook, but now and then, I can manage some successful baking!
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This is a true story that one of my friends recounted last Christmas. In fact, I think the story is so funny that it deserves to be shared with you all again.
My friend (N) and his family adopted a rescue dog from Ireland a while back: an English staffie (Staffordshire bull terrier) with the sunny disposition of a dog without a care in the world, and the energy of a circus troupe of toddlers on a sugar high!
One day last winter, I was walking in the woods when I was knocked over by a compact barrel with legs, a veritable cinnamon bun with the sheer power of a tank!
My friend, N, told me this funny story about how the Staffie had embarrassed him over Christmas. He had to nip up to the shops for some emergency food and decided to take Staffie with him for the exercise.
When he got to the supermarket, he started tying her up as usual on those doggie loops they have outside the shop. Suddenly, without any warning, she jerked the lead off the loop and made a mad dash for the shop, winding N in the process.
He sped after her, only to find her with her front paws inside the first set of automatic doors and her bum firmly outside. (It should be mentioned that there is a kind of airlock system in the shop. The first doors let you come into the lobby where you can pick up the shopping trolleys and baskets. The second set of doors open up to allow you entrance to the shop itself.)
“Gotcha!” he cackled and made a flying leap at her. Just then a large lady laden down with goodies activated the second set of doors – the ones that allow hungry dogs access to paradise!
The dog dashed triumphantly through these doors, violating every known (and unknown) Swedish health regulation (and probably all the EU ones, too!), careering past the fruit and veg as fast as her little legs could carry her and right to the back of the shop. Where she stopped. And stared. And drooled and drooled in front of the delicatessen counter.
Red-faced, N finally caught up with her, grabbed the lead and started pulling her away. Just like the sword in the stone, she refused to budge. By now, both N and Staffie had bulging eyes and pools of saliva were congealing on the floor. In the end, he had to pick her up and walk back to the doors through the whole length of the shop. The whole shop stared and tutt-tutted.
He tied her up and went back inside to buy the single item on his list.
As he waited in the queue, he could hear a weird howling sound every time the doors opened.
Silence when they shut. Then WHOOOO! HOOO! again. Poor kid bawling its eyes out, he thought. Only to have it dawn on him that it was Staffie, making a noise that she has never made before or since.
His red face turned purple, then puce. He could hear people thinking, “That’s why people like him shouldn’t have dogs like that!”
And that, dear readers, is what the smell of Christmas can do to a dog!
(These pictures are courtesy of Google and not actually photos of the dog in question.)
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The sun was starting to set at around three o’clock on Christmas Eve.
The day’s shortest day has been and gone – but someone forgot to tell the sun. I didn’t mind as I was out testing my new SLR camera…
May all your skies be beautiful ones!
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December is a time of magical snowflakes, soft candlelight, sweet songs and even sweeter gingerbread…
The Swedes love gingerbread, but not gingerbread men with their eyes of icing sugar. No, they put together simple or elaborate houses made of gingerbread, stuck together with burnt sugar and topped with hard white icing. After New Year, they hold parties where they dance around the tree to say good-bye to it and then they break the gingerbread houses made so lovingly – and eat them.
We have a new bakery in town – with the most delightful display in the window. Our old church (nearly 1,000 years old in fact) has been immortalized in gingerbread and icing sugar!
What I love about this picture is that you can see the reflection of the actual physical church in the window.
I wish you all a delightfully sweet Christmas!
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A real live baby reindeer…
Now – where did I put that shiny red nose of mine?
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We’re having lovely crispy nostril-hair-freezing-and-cracking kind of weather.
But look at that glorious morning sun!
It is cold and snowy. The bitter wind blows the snowflakes into my face as I plod homewards with the kids. Going from school to home along the slippery pavement requires effort and concentration.
Head downwards, I concentrate on my shoes – and my troubles. I will my feet to stay rooted to the pavement, pray for gravity to pull me pavementwards, to anchor me…
Suddenly, from behind me, sweet singing soars upwards, like balloons filled with musical air flying up, upwards to meet the snow and the stars.
It is the children, singing a song to welcome in the winter, to embrace the snow, to dance on the wind.
I look up and smile.
My feet are free from their tethers and I lose myself in that single snow-filled magical moment of song and joy.
It is only a moment, yet it is my whole world.
On 13 December, Swedes get up at the crack of dawn to celebrate the festival of Santa Lucia: schools, shopping centres, the streets — all are full of young girls with fire in their hair, who go round singing beautiful Lucia songs together with an entourage of handmaidens and Santa’s helpers.
The girl who is Lucia has real burning candles in her hair as she leads a procession of young women (and even boys these days, of course) bearing candles. They sing Lucia songs in Swedish – but they originate from the Neapolitan song of Sankta Lucia, which the Scandinavian tradition is based on.
There are several different legends about Lucia. Everyone agrees that she was a young girl living in Sicily in about 300 AD. Some say that she hid persecuted Christians and was burned at the stake for helping them. However, the fire refused to burn her and she ended up having her throat slit. Yes – these legends are a bit gory!
Other stories say that she fell in love with a young man who spurned her. So, in a foolish act of unrequited love, she is said to have cut out her own eyes and sent them to the man she loved. A rather strange way of declaring undying love! But as they say, love is blind…
A more likely story is that in the Julian calendar, December 13th was the longest night of the year and people in the olden days believed that evil spirits were abroad then, so they burned lots of fires to keep the spirits at bay.
Whatever the origins, this Italian saint is now the Scandinavian symbolic figure: the bringer of light. It’s all about bringing light to the darkness of winter, of bringing warmth into the cold.
And, of course, it’s all about food and drink! This is the time when Swedes go mad in the kitchen and bake up storms of gingerbread and Lucia buns – more commonly called, Lucia cats (lussekatter in Swedish). These are saffron-flavoured sweet buns shaped like curled up cats with raisins for eyes. You eat these morning, noon and night – washed down with coffee or glögg. Glögg is like mulled wine spiced with cinammon sticks and cloves. You put raisins and almonds in a small cup and then fill up with glögg – and drink. You then use dainty little teaspoons to eat up the wine-soaked raisins and almonds…
And, now – if you’ll excuse me. I can hear a Lucia cat meowing to me from the kitchen!
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I found a delightful photo on this site, which I’d like to share.
I don’t know where it was taken, but I can just imagine cycling down a lonely lane in Scotland and coming across this scene.
Why is it there is always a queue outside the Ladies but not the Gents?
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