Jul Day: My Scandinavian Christmas

Last year, for our rather balmy December I decided to have an English Christmas, which involved a pot roast, roasted potatoes, (Brussels) sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, and apple crumble. I also intended to make a Christmas pudding but was talked out of it, based on the fact that I dislike most of the ingredients. I very much enjoyed exploring another country for Christmas, if not physically, then at least in spirit, so I decided to do it again this year. Perhaps you're thinking I went with Japan, seeing as I write a blog about it. As you've seen in my last few posts, Japan does have an interesting tradition, which I did explore around Christmas, but for the actual day, I decided to go with somewhere a little more traditional. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to write about somewhere else.

I have many varying interests and a lot of them are based on other cultures. Aside from being fascinated by Japan, I also happen to like Norway and Sweden. One of my goals, after I learn Japanese, is actually to work on learning Norwegian (which is supposed to be much easier for a native English speaker). The appeal? Sweaters, mainly. I loose my mind when I see a nice Norwegian sweater and intend to visit someday to get my fill of them. Other than that, I also find the history and culture of Scandinavia very appealing. Plus, my mother recently traced back our family tree and it turns out a long, long time ago our they were Norwegian and Swedish royalty, go figure. 

I'm a big Rick Steves fan. I watch it pretty much every Sunday on PBS, but my favorite is his European Christmas special, which I own on DVD. I also have the soundtrack and the book. It was from here that I learned that Norway is the least church attending country in Europe. Therefore, Christmas there is far more like the original pagan solstice festival, Yule. In fact, the Norwegian word for Christmas is Jul. The season is far less about the birth of Jesus and much more about a celebration of the returning of light. White lights, candles and evergreen adorn homes, and I followed suit. 

I started my Scandinavian Christmas by decorating the house is red and white, the traditional Christmas colors of the north. I made new felt stockings for the whole family, painted a Norwegian village advent calendar, and dressed one of my decorative cats as the Julenisse, the elf that plays the roll of Santa in Norway. 

On December 13th I celebrated St Lucia Day with the traditional saffron buns. Well, almost traditional, I didn't have any saffron so I used curry. I didn't go so far as to wear the wreath with candles on my head, but I did have fun making the buns. When we finally got around to bringing in out Christmas tree, I gave up my life long loyalty to colored lights in favor of white ones. However, we stuck with our family's usual ornaments, which actually turned out to look pretty Norwegian. 

But, the real fun started on Christmas Eve when I made a scrumptious Norwegian dinner. Starting with a smoked salmon casserole, which was delicious, or as they say in Norway, nydelig! With potatoes, scream cheese, onions, smoked salmon and dill, it was hardy and tasty, just the thing to get you through a cold northern night. For dessert I made risengrøt, a porridge made from rice and milk. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be so very good, a lot like rice pudding, only better. In Norway, it is traditional to put an almond in the risengrøt, whoever gets it in their bowl wins a marzipan pig. I tried this, though I didn't have the pig to give as a prize. Just as well, because the almond mysteriously disappeared. 

For Christmas morning we started with a waffle breakfast, made by my mother. Waffles are, of course, very Norwegian, but we opted for blueberries and maple syrup rather than powdered sugar and brown cheese. After lots of present opening, I cleared the table of gifts and wrapping paper and set out what I had prepared the day before for a tea/lunch. I started with a Swedish tea ring, which is like a cinnamon roll bread and is fun to make and to eat. But I also wanted something savory. 

A few years ago I read about the Swedish smorgastarta, which is pretty much a savory cake. Savory cake? How does that work? Well, instead of cake, you make bread in a cake pan. Instead of frosting you use a cream cheese and sour cream spread. In the middle are veggies and salmon mousse and on top are fresh vegetables and other things like smoked salmon and hard boiled eggs. I had been itching to make one and once I decided to go Swedish for lunch, it wasn't hard to make up my mind. 

I didn't want to overdo things, not after having had a very stressful Thanksgiving, so I decided to leave out the salmon mousse. Still, even with my high expectations, this cake did not disappoint. Since I made up parts of the recipe I intend on giving it to you in this month's News Letter, so make sure you're signed up here

And what about dinner? you may be thinking now. Are you crazy? After eater a few slices of smogastarta I was set for the rest of the week. Or at least until later that evening when I had a third slice. 

I don't come from a very religious family so for us Christmas has always been more about the tree, the presents, and the family. I found that the Scandinavian traditions were perfect for this, even if the weather didn't comply, giving us yet another brown Christmas. This holiday has always been my favorite time of year and I am very glad I got to share our family's with you. I hope your's was just as wonderful and delicious!

Until next time, god jul og godt nytt år!

(What you don't speak Norwegian? Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!)