Swedish Traditions at Christmas
Christmas is a time when Swedes hunker down for what is invariably a lengthy winter, with short days and many long, dark nights. These days, Swedish Christmas is a hodgepodge of Christian, Pagan, Norse and Germanic traditions through the ages, with many of the older customs based on chasing away darkness and evil spirits. To this day, candles and lights are ubiquitous in homes and windows throughout December.
The first advent kicks off the count down to the Swedish Christmas festivities. Many households pause to light advent candles, enjoy some pepparkakor (gingerbread) or a saffron-scented Lucia bun washed down with small glasses of glögg – strong Swedish mulled wine with almonds and raisins. Many will also gather together in the weeks preceding the big day to bake or make sweets and chocolates, delicately wrapped and boxed to be given as gifts or devoured on Christmas Eve.
On the 13th of December, Swedes celebrate St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304. According to legend, she brought provisions to persecuted Christians hiding in the dark Roman catacombs. To light her way, she wore a wreath of candles on her head. Today, processions take place in homes, offices and schools alike. The parade will be dressed in white gowns, carrying candles and singing traditional Christmas songs, led by a girl representing St. Lucia with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head (these days often battery-powered!). If you are lucky the procession will also come bearing coffee and saffron buns (‘lussekatter’).
Swedes celebrate Christmas itself on the 24th of December. A modern and uniquely Swedish tradition is to plonk down after this hefty lunch in front of the TV to watch ‘Donald Duck’s Christmas’ a series of Disney cartoons from the 1950’s. The program is pretty much the same every year, but nonetheless, at 3pm on Christmas Eve every year, the whole country shuts down to watch it.
Today, much to every child’s delight, Santa visits homes once it gets dark (generally after Donald Duck). Upon entering the house he will ask ‘are there any good children here?’ Parents will generally reply in the affirmative, with a bit of hesitation for dramatic effect, and concede that their kids deserve their gifts from Santa. It doesn’t matter that this is often quite obviously a family member wearing a token white beard and red hat, for every Swedish child, it’s the most exciting moment of the year.
Swedish Christmas Fayre
Swedes celebrate Christmas itself on the 24th of December, generally with a delicious smörgåsbord lunch, laden with a succulent mustard-glazed Christmas ham, meatballs, gravadlax, ‘gubbröra’ (a salty mixture of egg and anchovy), homemade pâtés, mini sausages known as ‘prinskorv’ and pickled herring. The tradition of serving pork dishes at Christmas goes back to a time when most Swedes were farmers and would slaughter their pig at this time of year.
Rice porridge is a common feature of Swedish Christmas meals, as bowls would often be left outside for the house elves that were believed to look after every farm, in order to keep them happy. Other desserts include tartlets made from almond pastry, filled with cream, winter berries or compote.
If you’d like to replicate the Swedish style this Christmas and create your own smörgåsbord, then why not stock up on some authentic store-cupboard essentials ahead of Christmas?
Peter’s Yard, the award-winning UK based bakery produces thin, light, delicious hand-crafted crispbread to an authentic recipe from Sweden, the natural home of crispbread. The Peter’s Yard original recipe crispbread uses just five all-natural ingredients which include whole-wheat flours, fresh milk, honey and a naturally fermenting sourdough made as it would have been centuries ago in Sweden. The flavoured crispbreads that include Spelt & Fig and Seeded Wholegrain complete the range and are also completely natural and free from anything artificial.
The Peter’s Yard crispbreads are available in a wide variety of sizes so they can be used for a choice of eating occasions. From a bite-sized crispbread ideal for canapés, to serve with dips or cheese to a medium size that is great for a light lunch for one or to use with the cheese course when entertaining. A large, almost dinner plate size crispbread is also available – for breaking, sharing and to create a dramatic dinner table centrepiece. The subtle flavour of the crispbread ensures that it complements the food, rather than overpowers or detracts.
Some crispbreads have a characteristic hole in the centre, reminiscent of traditional life in Sweden. In years gone by, it was customary that large discs of crispbread were baked during the harvest and left to preserve over the long Swedish winters. The discs were made with a central hole so that they could be left on a wooden pole, often above the fireplace.
The Peter’s Yard range is available at leading food halls, speciality food stores and delicatessens or from www.petersyard.com. A selection of packs are also available at Waitrose: Original Crispbreads 105g and 180g (£2.95 and £3.45 respectively), Spelt & Fig (100g £2.95) and Seeded Wholegrain (105g £2.95).
Peter’s Yard has recently engaged with a host of leading chefs to help develop their award-winning range of crispbreads. Throughout 2015, Peter’ Yard is working with celebrity chef, Swedish food lover and Peter’s Yard fan Valentine Warner who is developing a host of recipes on how best to enjoy crispbread.
Splat provides PR services to Peter’s Yard, an award-winning artisan bakery that makes authentic Swedish crispbread. Made using a traditional Swedish recipe with just five all-natural ingredients, the authentic crispbreads are high in fibre, free from anything artificial and use wholewheat flours, fresh milk, honey and naturally fermenting sourdough just as they would have been centuries ago in Sweden. Peter’s Yard offer a variety of crispbread and pack sizes so there is a crispbread to suit every eating occasion. The combination of their light, crisp texture and simple, high quality ingredients make them the perfect partner for any topping but in particular when served with cheese.
Peter’s Yard has set out on a mission to become the Swedish bakery company and is stocked in over 1000 independent delicatessens, cheese shops, specialist shops and farm shops and also in larger Waitrose stores and on line. The crispbreads are also served in some of the best restaurants in the UK.