Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Childhood Christmas in Sweden, Part 4

Julotta and Julgransplundring

After a long day of Christmas Eve celebrations, many Swedes get up very early to go to the Christmas Day early morning service, julottan. The church in our community outside Stockholm was small, white-washed, with a spire. It was set on a small hill in the older part of the community and it was a lovely little church. I don't believe I ever attended a julotta there as a child. I went when I was older and only have vague memories of the service. Isn't it interesting how I remember everything so clearly from when I was smaller and then memories seem to fade away?

I hope you can imagine this as I'm imagining it: On the farms the sleighs were cleaned and polished, sleigh bells were put on the harness, the horse was curried, his tail and mane  brushed and dressed with red ribbons. Around four in the morning, the farmer's family woke up, got dressed, had something warm to eat and drink before they ventured out in the dark and cold early morning hour. There would be plenty of snow, of course, so off they went with sleigh bells ringing, wrapped warmly in their sheepskins in the back of the sleigh, the horse trotting happily through the snow. It was a tradition that all animals on the farm got a special treat for Christmas and the horse had munched on his earlier and was in good spirits.

Their pretty little country church was ablaze with live candles and colorful Christmas decorations. The congregation sang one of the most beautiful hymns I know, called Var halsad skona morgonstund, and listened to the traditional Christmas Day service. After the service, I'm sure they went home and ate and drank some more.

Something I do remember from my childhood was the parties where children go to each other's homes and plunder the Christmas tree, called julgransplundring. Twelfth Night (Epiphany), is called trettondags jul in Swedish, and is observed as a holiday there on January 6. Between  this day and something called 20-day Knut we would be invited to these parties. (Each day in the Swedish calendar has a name assigned and the names day of Knut falls 20 days after Christmas -- sorry if I'm not very clear here -- I'm not even very sure, but I think this is how it is.)  In Sweden, 20-day Knut is the formal end of the Christmas holiday season. Upon our arrival at our friend's home we would find the Christmas tree dressed anew with fresh candies and cookies. There was something called, I think, smaellkarameller, a sort of tube with candies inside, wrapped in silk paper with sort of frilly ends that hung in the tree. You pulled something and it went "bang" and all the candy would fall out. Anyway, we danced around the tree, something called ring dance, ate, played games, and then set about robbing the tree of all the goodies. When the tree was empty, we would drag it outside and put it in the yard for the grownups to dispose of. And then we went home, happy with our loot of candies, cookies, nuts and a fruit or two in our goodies bags. Looking back, I think it was a lovely way for a child to say goodbye to Christmas on a high note.  

Since I have no pictures of a Swedish Christmas, I've inserted a few from this morning. Yesterday's horrible weather must have made a turn for the better during the night because we woke up to some snow and sun this morning. The dogs have been outside, having a ball in the snow. Soldier and I went for a walk up the hill earlier and he was delirious with joy. Its very cold and a perfect winter's day for me.


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