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Why are all the best Christmas traditions Swedish? December 23, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.

I think it is pretty clear now from previous posts that as soon as it gets close to Christmas, I re-read ALL my picture books and chapter books that have some sort of connection to the holiday. In my quest to re-visit all these old friends, I noticed an interesting pattern. Almost all of the traditions that I loved to read about as a child come from Sweden. Now, I am not Swedish. In fact, my French/Irish/Mexican/Spanish heritage could scarcely be further from Scandinavia. And yet, so many of the Christmas stories that I read and loved involved saints, foods and celebrations from Sweden. A few examples:

Many children’s books talk about the tradition of St. Lucia Day on December 13, when the oldest girl or woman in the family gets up early and brings coffee and special pastries to everyone in bed while wearing the special Lucia costume of white dress, red sash and crown of leaves and candles. Kirsten Larsen, of the American Girl book series, probably goes through the most harrowing adventures in her book Kirsten’s Surprise in order to celebrate this tradition. Snowstorms, injuries and getting lost can’t stop her from bringing light to the winter.

Pippi Longstocking, the beloved character created by Astrid Lindgren, celebrates Christmas in Pippi in the South Seas, although a little out of season (characteristically, she blames it on a faulty almanac). But it is the slightly less well known Children of Noisy Village, also by Lindgren, that goes through the season in detail, from making Christmas-tree baskets to baking gingersnaps to hoping for the almond in your porridge (or not. It means you’ll get married in the coming year).

Another slightly obscure book that shares even more Swedish holiday fun is The Little Silver House by Jennie D. Lindquist. This is part of a trilogy of books chronicling a year in the life of a little girl in the early 20th century (I’ve never been able to figure out exactly when these books are set, and the rural setting doesn’t help!) Lindquist, who was editor of the children’s literature magazine The Horn Book for a number of years, draws inspiration from her grandparents, who were Swedish immigrants. Many of the traditions already mentioned, such as Lucia Day, make an appearance in this book, along with others both delicious (candy treats called Karameller, given to everyone who comes to the house after Lucia Day) and just plain fun (the Long Dance of Christmas Eve, led by the youngest member of the family.)

Ok, so my family has its share of lovely customs from France and Mexico. There are piñatas, posadas, luminarias (or farolitos, depending on where you’re from) to line the sidewalk, beautiful clay santons on the mantlepiece. But every December, when I re-read these stories, I think “Can’t I just be Swedish for this one month out of the year?”


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