Saturday, November 29, 2008

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: First of Advent


(First published in Nordstjernan on Nov. 18, 2004. This version slightly modified.)

As we near the end of November, the first Sunday of Advent is soon upon us.

On Nov. 30, it is time to light the first candle of your adventsljusstake (candle holder for Advent). Advent, which means waiting, is the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden and it is celebrated for four consecutive Sundays leading up to Christmas.

The lighting of the first candle is the signal to bring out all the holiday decorations – including Christmas curtains, the julbock and tomte candles. It is also time to buy this year’s adventskalender for the children.

An official calendar from Sveriges Television or Sveriges Radio, or the chocolate-filled adventskalender imported from Germany - it doesn’t really matter, as long as the children have something to open starting Dec. 1.

Baking pepparkakor – gingerbread cookies – is another activity that should start around this holiday. The first batch of cookies should be finished early in the month so you can enjoy them through December. Depending on the size of the batch, you may have to make another one before Christmas.

(The cookies do not freeze – instead, keep them in Ziplock bags with a paper towel in each bag to absorb possible moisture)

Since my grandfather was a baker, my family would always make a super-sized batch. We would then invite all the children in my neighborhood to come do the cutout shapes with us. The most popular shapes were the heart, the pig and the gingerbread man and woman.

When the cookies were complete, we would decorate them with colored icing. As a reward, each child would take home a bag of pepparkakor.

Once children are asleep, adults may enjoy some glögg with their cookies. While there are alcohol-free versions, spiced-up glögg is most rewarding during cold winter nights. It is made with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom seeds and some red wine.

The first of advent is also an important time of year in Sweden for local shops as store owners get their windows ready for julskyltning – the Christmas window display. Small towns and big cities alike keep stores open late one night for great shopping opportunities, mingling and staying warm. It gets you in the mood for what’s about to come a few weeks down the road.

Far superior to the Christmas displays of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorff’s and Lord & Taylor, each little store in Sweden provides and old-fashioned small-town atmosphere with its frosted windows, tomtar and candles. Many stores also provide pepparkakor and glögg to keep their customers warm.

First of advent is here. Let the season of lights begin!

2 comments:

ab said...

Nice!

Anne Sofie said...

Agree, nice!, but have to correct one fact: Advent means arrival, from Latin, and of course in regard to God's arrival through Jesus Christ.