Friday, December 23, 2011


   Christmas Eve: This is the high point of a Scandinavian Christmas - an evening filled with magic for every child and remembered ever after
   If you are lucky enough to be a guest on this evening of celebration in a Scandinavian home you'll be greeted by the embrazing warmth of the living room, the table set with an abundance of food and decorated with cut flowers under the copper glow of candle light.
   The evocative smell of evergreen pine emanates from the Christmas tree. You'll find it is not an artificial tree, it is a tree fresh from the forest, decorated with ornaments, lights and garlands of tiny flags.
   Joining hands, forming a circle, and walking around the christmas tree singing christmas carols may often be part of the celebration. Such moments, though simple and spontaneous, are likely to stay with participants as a warm lifelong memory. This evening all the traditional delicacies are offered - it is when the big meal of the year is eaten.
   And after dessert, the plates of cookies and cakes are either placed on a table or passed from hand to hand - the coffee pot is emptied and emptied again.
But the feasting by no means ends with this important evening. The next day there is cold buffet - and on the 26th and 27th when calls are made on friends, still more food.
The enjoyment can go on as long as the season lasts - and to many in Scandinavia, Christmas is not over until well into January.

   Few subjects in Norwegian art are so often shown in Christmas cards and magazines as Lars Jorde’s “Julegilde”. The painting conveys a mood that many associate with Christmas Eve, snow and darkness outdoors, tradition, light and festivities indoors.
Against the blue evening sky we see the outline of a typical timber house from the Gudbrandsdal, with light in every window. The Christmas feast is evidently coming to a close; the hosts are in the open door saying good-bye to the guests. In the snowy yard we see a horse and sled ready to take some of the guests home. More sleds in the foreground give life and perspective to the picture. The artist is playing on the contrasts between the light outdoors and indoors, between the cold and warm colors.
   Lars Jorde created the painting after a visit with good friends on the Skoug farm near Lillehammer. Her he stayed for periods as a guest of the farmer Erik Skoug who was known for supporting young and poor artists.
   The painting represents a high point in Jorde’s early development as an artist, with emphasis on evocative motifs rendered with bluish and gray-violet nuances, executed in somewhat veiled, picturesque strokes giving a feeling of dreamy melancholy.

Scandinavian Christmas Traditions:

   December is the darkest time of year in Scandinavia.
   Located at the "top of Europe" in the northern hemisphere, the countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden experience the darkest time of the year during the Christmas season when the nights are longest and the greater part of winter is still ahead.

Scandinavian Christmas Traditions

“Jul” or Yule, was celebrated long before Christianity came to Scandinavia.
At that time it was an observation of the winter solistice, that from then on the days would become longer and darkness gradually recede.
It was a celebration of light returning. 
   The word “jul” or Yule means “the change” of “the feast of feasts”, with reference to midwinter reveries celebrated around new years.
There was plenty of mead and plenty of food, indulging in a sort of magic of plenty.
It was believed that it would ensure prosperity and plenty for the coming year.
The “yule night” was loaded with supernatural powers when even the animals could speak.

God Jul: A Swedish Christmas

   The snow lies deep in the countryside and a moonlit night may look very much like the scene in the old Christmas card shown below. Of course the card also depicts "julenissen" or "jultomten", a Scandinavian version of Santa Claus. Notice: He has no reindeer or sleigh. he is carrying the gifts on his back.

An Old Christmas Card

   No wonder then that there is the need to find refuge from the darkness - and the only proper refuge seems to have been the home where comfort is assured. Plants are on the windowsill and cut flowers in profusion on tables do much to dispel the gloom.
December, the "advent" period leading up to Christmas in Scandinavia is a magical time of warmth and candlelight. Speaking of candlelight, of all Europeans Norwegians are the most enthusiastic users of candles and candlelight - they call it "levende lys" meaning "living lights". Evenings are dark, but the houses are ablaze with light...
All this would be to little avail if Christmas were not approaching toward the end of the month.

The Antidote to Darkness

   Christmas in Scandinavia is an antidote to darkness, a way to break winter's hold. Nowhere else in the world is it celebrated quite so warmly - or with so much candlelight and food - as in this northern corner of Europe.
   In North America you will be swamped with images of Santa and sugar plums. Songs by Bing Crosby will ring nostalgically through our minds. Streets, shopping malls and schools will be festooned with tinsel, holiday decorations and ornamentation designed to get one and all into the season of gifts and giving. Increasingly the Internet has taken to the holiday spirit, now competing with the mall is the monitor. And on the monitor nothing is local, the world is at your fingertips, including Scandinavian Christmas.

Quote from "Old Christmas"...

   "of calling back the children of a family who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementoes of the old fashioned Christmas of childhood." 

 The Christmas Hearth

Norwegian Country Yule -
from an old painting by Tidemand
- an excellent example of early scandinavian christmas traditions.

Old Time Christmas

   The high point of the Scandinavian season is not Christmas Day, but Christmas Eve. This part of Scandinavian Christmas Traditions too may have to do with darkness. Coming to dinner through streets wrapped in darkness, having the door of welcome opened and yellow light suddenly streaming out into the dark - this belongs to Christmas in Scandinavia and is in keeping with Scandinavian Christmas Traditions.
Take a look at the painting Julegilde (Christmas Feast) by Lars Jorde. The original painting hangs in Norway's National Gallery in Oslo. It shows a house lit up from within, with glowing lights in every window, people taking their leave (or are they just arriving?) at the door, sleds parked outside in the snow. The atmosphere is unmistakable. As true a depiction of Scandinavian Christmas Traditions as you are likely to see.

There are sounds in the sky when the year grows old,
And the winds of the winter blow—
When night and the moon are clear and cold,
And the stars shine on the snow,
Or wild is the blast and the bitter sleet
That beats on the window-pane;
But blest on the frosty hills are the feet
Of the Christmas time again!
Chiming sweet when the night wind swells,
Blest is the sound of the Christmas Bells!


Scandinavian Foods

   Ever since the earliest settlements in these lands, food and customs have intermingled among the countries and, blended with influences from foreign shores, have created a cuisine and a culture that take second rank to none.
   In 1247, when Cardinal William of Sabina made the long trip to Norway to crown Haakon Haakonsson, the papal legate told the court that he had been warned against making the journey to the barren lands of the North, where there would be little bread,
The drinks would be limited to water and milk, and the people would behave like animals. Instead, the cardinal informed his delighted hosts, he had found a great assembly of people of excellent manners and an abundance of fine food and drink.
Even at that early date, the cardinal stood before people who knew how to set store by food and drink after the European fashion. On a map of the world, the greater part of Scandinavia looks like a group of frozen, forbidding clumps of earth and mountain, and its history is as rough as its terrain.
   This corner of the globe has known a stormy past, but out of it has come a remarkable unity. We have today something singular, a kind of interdependence and mutual trust not common on this planet. Clear boundary lines between the countries are difficult to define. As far as food is concerned, we share a special culinary tradition.
Something remarkable has occurred: an inter-Nordic kitchen has appeared and we share the delights of it among ourselves. We feel at ease at one another's tables.
Through the ages we have had a varied diet, but it has always been down to earth, plain and simple. It has sprung out of nature itself, and bears traces of the rhythm of the seasons.

Modern Scandanavian Decor

The underlying principle Is simplicity, and the guiding thread - as Dale Brown points out in his book is the natural taste that soil, climate, mountain and lake have produced. Thus, our dishes are uncomplicated, varied and in harmony with nature.
While it is true that this inter-Nordic kitchen shares in the European tradition, as does the American kitchen, some of the dishes and culinary customs that are presented in this book may at first seem strange to people under other skies.
When the late Norwegian painter Edvard Munch invited artist friends to parties, it is said that he often served vintage Champagne with a dish of beef and onions. 
   It is not unusual in Scandinavia today to drink red wine with boiled cod and roe. It is, of course, an affront in some other lands to dare to combine the freshest of cod boiled in salt water with hearty red wine, or to serve Champagne with beef and onions.
   Nonetheless, we make such robust combinations, however little they agree with other traditions. We also like to precede or accompany our food with strong aquavit and beer, and do not concern ourselves overmuch with cocktails.
   To us, and now I am speaking with a Norwegian tongue, beer is one of the finest of drinks. It goes with the fare that is our own, and emphasizes its goodness. If we eat herring, or flat bread with salted butter and cheese - good, everyday food - we give little thought to a drink other than beer.
   To amplify this point, one does not find in our latitudes what might elsewhere be called the sophisticated kitchen, the classic grande cuisine. Such a cuisine derives partly from another time - the time when with culinary artifices one tried to conceal the taste of the raw materials because - in all likelihood, their freshness had disappeared in the long journey from source to kitchen.
   Of primary importance to the modern culinary art is the freshness, cleanliness and genuineness of the raw materials. Today these qualities can, of course, be preserved by technological means. Nowadays, the natural taste is characteristic of our kitchen. The goal is always the unassuming, the uncomplicated.
   If the word gastronomy is mentioned in Scandinavia today, there are many who think of an ideal of refinement from the gilded 1880s. They are in a sense right; the word does not really belong to our time, but to an age of tranquillity and gentility. But to me, gastronomy is still alive to the highest degree in Scandinavia.

   Gastronomy, by my definition, is culinary art closely connected to a living tradition.  We ourselves do not give our living gastronomy much thought, because it is an integral part of our everyday life.
   Only when it is called to our attention do we stop a moment and meditate on it a bit. That is why Dale Brown's book is so welcome and so valuable."
Written by Hroar Dege.
Scandinavian Foods are influenced by the rest of the world, but it has retained its characteristics and special touches unique to this northern outpost of Europe.
Fresh fish has always been important in Scandinavian Foods, and there is a long tradition of fishermen going out to sea to bring back the abundance to be found in the rough ocean waters surrounding the Scandianvian peninsula.
   There was a time when scratching out a living in this rugged land depended on the fisheries and the ship building skills of the Scandinavians.
   In recent years the discovery of oil in the North Sea has done much to alter the economic outlook of Scandinavia. Through it all, Scandinavian Foods have remained largely unaltered.
   An important part of Scandinavian Foods is the salmon - both wild salmon returning to spawn in the rivers, and captive salmon raised in ocean enclosures off the coast of Norway.

   Scandinavian Foods also include the wild berries of the mountains and forests, the lingonberry, blueberry and the rare cloudberry. The cloudberry, a yellow fruit growing only in the wildest and most remote areas is prized for its unique tart taste. The Finns have even produced a cloudberry Liquor.
   Scandinavian Foods would not be the same without the extensive baking skills producing an abundance of delicious pastries, cakes and bread - found in all the Scandinavian countries. The Danes have perhaps cornered the market on baking, but the other countries are not far behind. Scandinavian baked goods are distinguished by the fresh and natural ingredients and the eschewing of artificial embellishments that often mar baked goods elsewhere.
   For a unique Scandinavian Foods experience, try the open face sandwiches. Copenhagen is justly famous for the restaurants offering up a vast array of attractively prepared and delicious open face sandwiches.

No comments:

Post a Comment