Podcast Episode 004: Detailed Show Notes: Christmas Eve: US –Cz- Sweden.
Merry Christmas Eve, everyone. Hope you are in a cozy place with family, on the way to something good.
We are here to talk about our Christmas traditions.
Our Christmas Eve in Swedish Julafton. Czech Vanoce traditions.
Today we talk about Swedish traditions and Czech traditions as the 24th is their main celebration day.
Mats talks about how in his family, in Sweden, they have strict traditions.
They get 1 Gift in morning, mostly to calm the kids.
Their society was about real, so from 1 or 2 years old they were told that there was no Santa. This is shocking to Ariel who came from a long line of spirited believers.
In Mats’ family they were more present oriented.
They would go to grandma’s place (Farmor – father’s mother), across Stockholm. She had a lot of good food and atmosphere.
Special foods Mats would look forward to were lut fisk..and a special delicious sauce.. they only had at Christmas.
Also, Pigs feet. As a vegetarian, Ariel was curious how they would eat this and Mats said they mainly ate the cartilage.
Another favorite, (which Mats makes no matter where we are) is Christmas porridge. (rice, milk, sugar, etc with cinnamon sticks and cinnamon on top.)
Herring and Julmust which Mats loves and Ariel thinks it’s awful cough syrup-like Cola. (You can find it at IKEA to try it out, if you don’t live in Sweden.)
To continue the Swedish realities of Mats’ family each 24th of December:
Every year, at grandma’s around 15:00/3PM, Mats’ uncle would come with big German Shepard dogs and was the only one he ever saw bullying his dad. Mats was afraid of dogs.
For 15 years, it was like this. Ariel laughs, thinking it sounds very similar to 4 Christmas’ Movie they watched, recently.
Anther thing that reminds Mats of Swedish Christmas was the watching (or in his family, listening) of Kalanka, which is old American Donald Duck animation. You can find this on youtube.
The funny thing is they always had to turn it on afternoon/evening, yet didn’t watch it at all, they just went to play with their new toys.
As far as the next day.., they did nothing on 25th of December..
Only on Christmas with grandma to an old church from the 1400s.
Their Christmas tree was traditional with decorations and many candies around, and Mats’ mom liked gnomes and Tomptas, so they were all around, as well.
And, of course, there were the Traditional Christmas Goats. Ariel laughs out loud, having absolutely no idea about what a Christmas goat is, at all. Yet, at last, Mats says they are made out of straw and they have all different sizes all around the house. Straw ornaments areas well all over the Czech Republic, Russia and around, and there are some small ones around in the Christmas markets, including goats.
Ariel’s family Christmas eve is a more casual version before their big Christmas Celebration on the 25th.
Ariel only went out to her Dad on the East coast of USA, one year, growing up. All others were celebrated mostly with mom’s family with some small visits to dad’s brother and parents (dad and step mom).
At Ariel’s house they had a Christmas tree decorated with handmade and grandma’s old ornaments. As well, there was decor all around the house which was all put up well before Christmas.
Pre-Christmas was all about cookies covering every surface of the Ariel’s mom’s house. Her mom was expected to bring her gingerbread cookies and Armenian dolma to her aunt Miranda’s where they usually celebrated all holidays. The cookies were always very colorful and as an artist it was a whole beautiful process of one color per day, slowly creating the cookie artwork Diana was known for.
Armenian dolma process was as well full of family tradition. Diana would buy, or some times even pick, the best grape leaves she could find. Then, she would choose the tenderest leaves for wrapping and making the insides for the dolma. This meant hand cutting the onions together, sitting around a table, talking story. It was as if it was part of the cooking ritual for the end of the year to let go of some tears, somehow releasing and preparing for the coming new year.
At Ariel’s aunt’s house, she did amazing things all around. Magical decorations every kid would get lost in. Placemats made from old Christmas cards. The formal dining room she always decorated and made so nice for all of us. I even remember Christmas poppers and games in recent years.
Ariel and her mom would drive from Sonoma wine country to the East bay to start Christmas at Aunt Mir’s house. They would leave home with a car full of presents, bags, food and various things, and of course the dog, sometime before Christmas Eve.
In California, Ariel’s family’s December 24th was mainly celebrated with immediate family and always very casual and relaxed. That said, there was always a lot of food preparation and exhausted mom’s and helpers when many people were coming over. That made for some grumpiness and conflict, at times, but with good reason. It’s so much work to have a house full of people, which I never fully realized until we did it ourselves.
Ariel thinks church was usually on the 25th, yet that is a bit of a blur. Over the years.. less and less family went with my aunt. Most of the family was lazy, not terribly religious, or just not into the scene sometimes. When Ariel was younger, going to church reminded her of her grandmother, yet generally, she was only waiting for the singing, which was her favorite part.
People would generally trickle into my aunt’s place from the neighbor, to son flying in, daughter driving, older relatives which slowly were less and less, over the years.
In Czech, where Ariel has lived for many years, Helena Polakova and her Mig21 family were Czech family at holidays.
The 24th was generally only for family, yet these lovely upstairs neighbors would invite her over. The kindness and ritual warmed her heart and was a wonderful change of pace from the usual Christmas movie marathon and occasional Christmas Karaoke that was a part of her Hradcanska, Dejvicka life in Prague, CZ.
As none of us were super into traditional style carp for Christmas dinner, Helena did carp soup. Ariel would bring Armenian rice pilaf and maybe some hummus. We would all make the 9 different fruits+ salad for good luck, reflecting the abundance and change here compared to early days where no. Helena would make the traditional potato salad with yogurt instead of mayo and there would be a mountain of little Christmas cookies all around.
Usually, we would as well cut an apple and if there was star in the middle for good luck.
Another fun thing the Polakovi family introduced to me and I have since given as gifts to friends in the states is the Throwing of lead, also known as, Olivo. The shapes that form in the cold water, little mini statues, tell your fortune.
After dinner, the kids are told to go out of the main room. Then, Jezišek comes in through the window on wings and decorates the tree with candles, sparklers, etc and all gifts from a basket under bed magically appeared under the tree, with some help. The coolest part of that is that people’s names were on the presents, but not who from. And, though tradition was similar that the youngest would pass out the gifts. Each person could start opening as soon as all had at least 1 gift. It was fun and fast and without 1000 thank yous or shame or pride about who has given what. In the end, actually pretty cool.
Coming back to the carp tradition, it was a few days before Christmas where all over on the streets we would see people with small pools with live carp swimming inside which were picked and killed live in front of you. Some took them home to live in their bathtubs for a week. Hmm..
How will we do it this year?!
Ariel and Mats usually drive to Ikea for various Swedish things, but now no car (given back when work unexpectedly ended), so maybe not this year. (In fact, we tried herring and ham from Tesco that looked similar, but in the end was a bit funky. So, next time, I guess we will go weeks ahead to IKEA so Mats can get the full effect.)
Ariel and Mats have had their Christmas tree up for many weeks as they have their annual tree decorating at the start of each December.
In Sweden, Mats and his family would put their tree out and presents on eve of 23rd.
As well, Mats’ family put a special red wax seal to close the gifts along with a rhyme, hinting at what is inside the package.
That’s it folks.
Send us your traditions, Swedish, or not. We would love to hear from you!