In order to celebrate Christmas in Sweden, it is necessary to understand the customs of the Swedish Christmas season. While there are some similarities to the United States, there are some interesting differences that are observed, and the foods that are listed as traditional are prepared somewhat differently, as well. It is always fun to see how other cultures celebrate the same holiday, and the Swedish people have more than just a few days of celebration and holy observances.
First, it is necessary to mention Saint Lucia’s day. According to Wikipedia, “St. Lucy was an Italian saint who suffered a martyr’s death under the Roman Emperor Diocletian in Syracuse, Sicily around 300 AD. In one of the stories associated with her, she was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head.” Although, Sweden is a primarily Lutheran country, the tradition of St. Lucia is one that is held dear. Although it is not an actual holiday, it is celebrated throughout Sweden. There are parties and dinners, and other traditions, as well.
Traditionally in Sweden, a young woman will be elected to lead a procession as Saint Lucia, and she will wear a crown of candles on her while wearing a white dress. There are other people allowed in the procession, including boys, but there can be only one Lucia in the procession. There are songs that are sung by various people in the procession. St. Lucia bears saffron buns, or cakes. These cakes are made in the following manner:
Swedish Saffron Cake
* Bread crumbs for pan
* 200g (8 ounces) butter or margarine
* 1/ g (pinch) saffron
* 2 eggs
* 3dl (1 1/2 cups) sugar
* 1.5dl (3/4 cup) milk
* 4dl (2 cups) flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* Confectioner’s sugar
Butter a 24cm (9 inch) spring form, pan and sprinkle some bread crumbs around pan.
Melt butter and let cool (or use liquid margarine).
Crush with a mortar and pestle, the saffron preferably with a sugar cube.
Beat eggs and sugar, add saffron, butter and milk.
In a separate bowl, mix flour with baking powder.
Add to egg batter.
Pour batter into the baking pan.
Bake on bottom rack of oven at 175 C (350°F) for 40-50 minutes.
Test for doneness.
Let cake cool before removing baking pan.
Cut out a star or a heart shape from paper and place it on the cake, sift the confectioner’s sugar over the top.
Recipe from www.inmamaskitchen.com.
In Sweden, the main celebration is held on Christmas Eve. Some accounts say the traditional fare is simply a rice pudding called Risgryngrot. Other accounts state the pudding is a dessert. Surely, the Swedish people will have their own personal traditions within the greater tradition, so when a large buffet-style meal is mentioned, it is easily believable. After all, Americans are known to prepare meals that they begin preparing anywhere from a day or two before the celebration to getting out of bed very early in the morning.
I found a recipe for a Swedish Christmas ham on http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/RECIPES/RECIPES/HOLIDAYS/ham_SWEDE.html via “How Do You Celebrate Christmas in Sweden?” by Terri Mapes on About.com. The recipe sounds delicious, and it is prepared in the following manner:
Swedish Christmas Ham
from: The Very Beautiful: The Scandinavian Cookbook, by Trina Hahnemann.
+ 6 1/2 pounds ham, either on the bone or boned and rolled
+ 4 quarts water
+ 2 egg yolks
+ 1 cup bread crumbs
+ 1/2 cup whole grain mustard
+ 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Place the ham in large bowl, cover with cold water, and let soak in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Put the ham in a large roasting pan and add the water.
Slowly roast in the oven for 3 hours and 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the ham reads 167°F.
Make the glaze. Mix together all the glaze ingredients in a bowl. Remove the ham from the oven and let cool slightly. Raise the oven temperature to 425°F.
Remove the rind from the ham and score a diamond pattern in the top layer of fat.
Brush the glaze over the ham and return to the oven.
Roast for 10 minutes, or until the ham is golden brown.
Let cool before serving.
Serves 15 as part of a buffet.
After the meal, the Risgryngrot is served. This pudding can be tweaked to the taste of any person, but it is generally made this way:
Swedish Rice Pudding
It is the Swedish tradition at Christmas to put one almond in the rice pudding when it is almost cooked. The legend holds that the person who gets the almond is the one who will be married the year after.
* 1 cup rice
* 2 cups water
* 1 3 inch stick cinnamon
* 3 eggs, beaten
* 4 cups milk
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 1 almond whole
Cook rice in water with cinnamon stick until done. Remove cinnamon stick and let cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Mix rice with beaten eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla.
Pour into baking dish, drizzle melted butter over top.
Bake 1 hour in 325°F oven.
To be authentically Swedish, ten minutes before baking is done, insert almond.
While Americans may enjoy the vastly different traditions held within such a melting pot of cultures and beliefs, it is surprising how little is known about the Christmas beliefs that are within our own country. It makes a person wonder whether there are people right next door that are observing the customs of Saint Lucia’s Day and having saffron cakes, or if there are people who are looking for the almond in their rice pudding to see if they are the ones to be married in the next year. The Swedish seem to have a wonderful and largely observed set of traditions to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is easy to see why they are able to look forward to the season every year.
http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/RECIPES/RECIPES/Desserts/swed_rice_pud.html. From: Emilie Eliasson Hovmüller.
http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/RECIPES/RECIPES/Desserts/safron_cake.html. From: Emilie Eliasson Hovmöller.
http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/SEASONS/swedish_christmas.html. Recipe Reprinted with permission from ©Andrews McMeel, The Scandinavian Cookbook, by Trina Hahnemann, published by Andrews McMeel.