A Scandinavian Christmas….with a side of mischievous elves

One of the joys of the Advent season for me has always been the excuse to let my proud  Scandinavian heritage flag fly. There is very little that makes me feel as connected to my ancestors, farmers who immigrated from Norway and Sweden, than baking with my human weight in butter, rolling up my lefsa and krumkake, and griping with others in our mutual loathing of lutefisk, which for unknown reasons (probably more to do with stubborn pride than anything) still graces many a Scandinavian-American’s Christmas Eve smorgasbord.

Krumkake and a Dala horse

For my German-American husband, this heavily coded world of Christmas traditions is as foreign as travelling to another country. To help ease him in to my emotional journey through baking, decking the tree in garlands of cheery little flags, and pouring aquavit into the hot spiced wine, I do everything I can to merge German traditions with my own, while mixing in some traditions from countries I have traveled to. Like the delicate little egg-shell ornament, hand painted in pastel greens, that I hand-carried from the Czech Republic. The Snowflake Bread recipe from Iceland, another fried dough concoction to go side-by-side with fattingman and rosettes. Eager to incorporate a German holiday, I planned for St. Nick’s Day goodies to tuck into his shoes – until I came face to face with his battered, stinky slippers. Um, never mind.

Last year I attempted to introduce my skeptical husband to rice pudding, the creamy, sweet delight with the hidden almond. The rice dessert did not go over well – Mark’s face told me all I needed to know, even before he compared it to congealed, lumpy milk. Thanks dear.

Of course, the rice pudding is essential for bribing the Julnisse, the mischievous little elves that just might wreak havoc with your Christmas. Due to Mark’s aversion, I will not be serving rice pudding this year, and something tells me we are in for a storm of playful pranks.

St. Lucia Day saffron rolls - full of butter

My first clue should have been the headlines out of Scandinavia which, with all due respect to the Norwegians, left me in gales of laughter. “Norway has made an emergency food appeal to Iceland…for butter” reported the IceNews article from December 6. Iceland, a smaller country fearing its own shortage if they helped, refused to send butter. Denmark followed suit. Desperate Norwegians have reportedly been crossing the border into Sweden in search of butter. Frivolity aside at the ridiculous situation, one that smacks of The Onion, a butter shortage at Christmastime truly is a dire situation in a Scandinavian household. We use mountains of butter in our baking and a Christmas without our krumkake and smorbakkels and spritz cookies, well, it just isn’t Christmas!

Obviously the Julnisse are running amuck.

Follow that headline up with the one out of Sweden. The town of Gälve’s 13 meter-high straw goat was “sacrificed” by unknown arsonists earlier than expected. Apparently it is an unofficial tradition for pranksters to set the huge straw goat alight in a giant bonfire every year, dodging the vigilant townspeople who do everything they can to save it, such as dousing it in water.

For my own little Christmas, the Julnisse have apparently hidden the aquavit. Multiple attempts to find this caraway-flavored liquor in Appleton-area stores has proven unsuccessful. Even Flanagan’s, which always carries the Danish Aalborg aquavit, was completely out, a full three weeks before Christmas. Either there is a larger Scandinavian population in German Wisconsin than I thought or the elves have stashed all the aquavit away for their own New Year’s Eve shindig. We are forging on, using vodka in the hot mulled wine, but somehow it is just not the same.

This isn’t to say our Scandinavian Christmas has fallen apart. On the contrary. Yesterday I used my krumkake iron successfully for the first time, rolling perfect golden patterned cones. My little tree is covered in straw ornaments and garlands of flags. Mark kindly points out I am neither Danish nor Finnish. I retort that the store seemed to be out of Swedish and Norwegian flags. Maybe my Julnisse are actually Danish, hitching a ride over in my suitcase after my trip to the Faroe Islands. But then why couldn’t I find Faroese flags?

Ah, the little mysteries of Christmas.

Now to put on some Nat King Cole, gaze at my German Christmas tree (yes, the Christmas tree is a Germanic tradition), and enjoy a uniquely Wisconsin Christmas. Watching the Green Bay Packers destroy the Chicago Bears.

Let’s pray the Julnisse don’t care about football. Or are not Bears fans. For the sake of my Wisconsin German-American husband.

Merry Christmas!


About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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