The three hundred and eighty-ninth åsic- From Påskkärring to Tomten in Twenty Minutes!

A recycled blogpost from my visit in Pitman New Jersey 2014!

I have had another interesting day in Pitman Middle School busy with interaction with students and teachers. Today’s topic was a bit different from the other days, since one of the students wanted to know how we celebrated Halloween. I quickly commented on that, but then I shared photos of the tradition from Easter Thursday which is more like the American ”trick or treat” than anything else in our tradition. Kids dress out as witches, but not EVIL witches. They are supposed to be more CUTE than evil or ugly. A påskkärring is supposed to be a witch soon going off to ”Blåkulla” on her broomstick. The idea for the kids is to draw or write nice cards saying ”Happy Easter” and then walk from door to door with these greetings. If they are lucky people give them a little treat in return, but there is NO tricking…just the treat… They will keep the collected treats either in an old coffeepot or in a basket.

inbjudning-8-300x232.jpg (300×232)

I then got the question whether there were any other Holidays I would like to mention. I picked Midsummer, since that may be interesting if you haven’t experienced it. First of all, Midsummer is a fantastic time of the year anywhere in Sweden, thanks to the Nordic light, but in the Northern part of Sweden the sun doesn’t set at all for a couple of days, which gives your summer’s night a magic touch. Midsummer can be celebrated in many ways, but traditionally we would gather to raise a maypole covered with leaves and flowers and then dance round the maypole, both old and young. One of the most popular song has very easy lyrics and we all sang it as kids. It is called ”Små grodorna” which means ”The little frogs”.

It is said about Midsummer that you dream of your spouse to be if you gather seven flowers and jump over seven fences. But you have to be quiet if you don’t want to break the spell! You pick the flowers, put them under your pillow and in your dream you will meet the very person who will be your husband or wife. 

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Suddenly someone wanted to know whether it was true that our Santa Claus doesn’t look quite like the American… so then we talked for a while about Tomten and the tradition of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve rather than  on Christmas Day.

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I was happy to have a computer to use to show pictures and talk about different details and finally I shared what TV-show most families watch on Christmas Eve. Kalle Ankas julafton… Donald Duck!

Glad påsk! (= Happy Easter)

Glad midsommar! (= Happy Midsummer’s Eve!)

God Jul! (=Merry Christmas)

One Hundred and Ninetyeighth Asic- Same Procedure as Last Year, James?

Many of the traditions we follow have an origin in religion or culture and may be deeply rooted for several other reasons. I remember first time I heard a reference to ”the ball drop”.  Of course I did not understand what it was all about, simply because I didn’t follow American traditions for New Year’s Eve. When I watched ”When Harry Met Sally” for the first time and when I followed the Broadcast from Times Square, NYC and under Billy Joel’s guidance could meet a new millennium, I understood the connection…

Interestingly enough, from the 1950s and on, many of the Swedish traditions are closely connected to TV, but none of us watch a ball drop… As I have written before, we watch Donald Duck at three o’clock on Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve we also gather in front of the TV set to watch a certain TV-show, or rather gatered, since many people have changed their habits for New Years Eve. For many years we had just one single TV-channel, but when I was a child we at least had two channels… 😉

I remember watching two particular TV-shows on New Year’s Eve. The first show was a British production called ”Dinner for One” in English(”Grevinnan och betjänten” in Swedish). It was filmatised in 1948, so of course it’s black and white back then. Please follow the link below! The manuscript is written by Lauri Wylie and the two participating actors, May Warden as the Duchess ”Miss Sophie” and Freddie Frinton as her waitor ”James” have entertained Swedish viewers for decades. The repeated dialogue makes it hilarious along with excellent performance from both actors.

James: Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?

Miss Sophie: Same procedure as every year, James!

Dinner for One

The next traditional TV-show is connected to the turning of the year, at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Many Swedish traditions are broadcasted at a famous open air museum in Stockholm, called Skansen. In the summer they have a weekly sing-along-concert with famous artists and during the winter you can for instance visit Skansen for traditional open air fairs. On New Year’s Eve a concert is held on Skansen. The performance consists of traditional choir music, such as ”Sverige” (= Sweden) by Verner von Heidenstam with music by Vilhelm Stenhammar.

At the very end of the concert, a famous actor/actress reads a poem by Lord Albert Tennyson, called ”Ring Out, Wild Bells”. See quote below! (source; wikipedia.org) This year the poem will be performed by the Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman. Since this time of the year is generally very cold in Sweden, I remember from my childhood how the actor/actress reading the poem would generally be dressed in a thick fur and the following applause from the audience was softened by gloves and mittens… This year, however, the weather is not quite as cold. Who knows? We may hear a loudlier applause by midnight!

”Ring Out, Wild Bells”(1850) by Lord Albert Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

The eightyninth åsic- From Påskkärring to Tomten in Twenty Minutes!

I have had another interesting day in Pitman Middle School filled with interaction with students and teachers. Today’s topic was a bit different from the other days, since one of the students wanted to know how we celebrated Halloween. I quickly commented on that, but then I shared photos of the tradition from Easter Thursday which is more like the American ”trick or treat” than anything else in our tradition. Kids dress out as witches, but not EVIL witches. They are supposed to be more CUTE than evil or ugly. A påskkärring is supposed to be a witch soon going off to ”Blåkulla” on her broomstick. The idea for the kids is to draw or write nice cards saying ”Happy Easter” and then walk from door to door with these greetings. If they are lucky people give them a little treat in return, but there is NO tricking…just the treat… They will keep the collected treats either in an old coffeepot or in a basket.

inbjudning-8-300x232.jpg (300×232)

I then got the question whether there were any other Holidays I would like to mention. I picked Midsummer, since that may be interesting if you haven’t experienced it. First of all, Midsummer is a fantastic time of the year anywhere in Sweden, thanks to the Nordic light, but in the Northern part of Sweden the sun doesn’t set at all for a couple of days, which gives your summer’s night a magic touch. Midsummer can be celebrated in many ways, but traditionally we would gather to raise a maypole covered with leaves and flowers and then dance round the maypole, both old and young. One of the most popular song has very easy lyrics and we all sang it as kids. It is called ”Små grodorna” which means ”The little frogs”.

It is said about Midsummer that you dream of your spouse to be if you gather seven flowers and jump over seven fences. But you have to be quiet if you don’t want to break the spell! You pick the flowers, put them under your pillow and in your dream you will meet the very person who will be your husband or wife. 

HVT26Midsommarmat.jpg (510×571)torsdag+011.jpg (320×240)

Suddenly someone wanted to know whether it was true that our Santa Claus doesn’t look quite like the American… so then we talked for a while about Tomten and the tradition of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve rather than  on Christmas Day.

20772452-origpic-bc1600.png (393×381)

I was happy to have a computer to use to show pictures and talk about different details and finally I shared what TV-show most families watch on Christmas Eve. Kalle Ankas julafton… Donald Duck!

Glad påsk! (= Happy Easter)

Glad midsommar! (= Happy Midsummer’s Eve!)

God Jul! (=Merry Christmas)

One hundred and thirtieth åsic- Winter break or Christmas Holiday?

I wonder what words we use now, compared to what we used to? Being a member of a Christian Society would mean that we remember Christmas as the Day when Jesus was born. But being a member of a secularised society means being careful with religious connections of any kind, at least when being a teacher. So… we might say Winter Break instead of Christmas Holiday… In Sweden I’d say most of us still say Christmas Holiday, ”jullov”, although not all of us would cherish the memory of Jesus. I suppose some children grow up innocently thinking that we celebrate Christmas because Santa comes…?

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Easter… we celebrate Easter because we need an excuse to eat eggs and have fun searching for candy in an egg hunt? I noticed last spring that instead of calling our typical Easter flowers ”Easter lilies” they had a new more neutral name; ”Spring lilies” and I suspect the reason why was that they wanted to be able to sell those flowers to ANYONE, not just the people who celebrate Easter… How clever!!!

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Whatever we DO believe  in, we risk to forget the reason. If we don’t communicate with our kids and remind them of reasons for our traditions or holidays, then they will grow up not knowing. But, having said that, I still think respect is a beautiful word in our vocabulary. If I teach a group of students, I’m not supposed to promote any religion in particular. So how would I then share the Swedish way of celebrating Christmas, without hurting people who have another belief? How can I possibly not at all show my own belief? Do I need to be a non believing person in order to be trustworthy? I don’t think so. I think I need to communicate the official Swedish viewpoint at the same time as I can be true to myself by not negotiating with my own belief. SO… If I meet people of different beliefs at work, I tend to be the ”cushion” in between different viewpoints. I try very hard to tell my students that whatever you believe you are free to do so, since Sweden is a society where there is no longer a state religion. You can choose for yourself to believe or not and if you believe, it’s up to you whether you’re a Buddhist or a Moslem or if your God is Jahve. And when you neighbout has another belief than you do, then just leave your neighbour in peace. You, yourself, have the same opportunity to choose, don’t you? I think the very choice to decide for oneself, is one of the best laws here in Sweden.

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One hundred and twentyseventh åsic- The Grinch vs Tomten

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Many years ago, a friend from Canada visited us and we started to talk about different traditions that we couldn’t live without. The Canadian friend mentioned that The Grinch would be such a tradition for him. In October when I visited a school in NJ, I noticed that many of the kids wanted to learn more about Swedish Christmas traditions and what TV-shows we most typically would watch on Christmas Day. First of all, I needed to tell them that Christmas Day isn’t really the big thing here, although we all know about Jesus… Instead most of us do most of our celebration on Christmas Eve and regarding TV-shows I told the American kids about our tradition of watching a Walt Disney show with Donald Duck and his friends. Some of the kids I met in NJ asked how come, but that’s a long story.

More fun was to notice that they all were astonished when I said kids in Sweden actually MEET Santa (called Tomten in Swedish). He doesn’t just drop things through the chimney or come during the night to put gifts under the Christmas tree. Instead he comes knocking the door, asking whether all the kids were kind or not… Every kid yells YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! and Tomten comes in to give his gifts from a large sack. But what if he doesn’t come? the American kids wanted to know… He does, I said. I then said that since he comes on Christmas Eve in our homes and he is offered plenty of rice porridge and saffron buns, he will for sure be a lot bigger when he arrives in Americe, because Tomten isn’t at all a fat and tall man, saying Ho ho ho! He wears clothes that is more close to the outfit the Grinch has in the above picture… The idea is for the people in the house, to be kind in general and also to be good to each other. Then Tomten will be kind, too, but if any child is naughty, Tomten will for sure not at all be kind! So, beware of Tomten… Apart from the Disney show we can also watch a more traditional show, more solemn and quiet with a whole lot of wintery feeling. Viktor Rydberg wrote a long poem, called Tomten. A famous Swedish writer, Torgny Lindgren reads with great passion and the lovely paintings are made by Harald Wiberg. Suppose you have never heard Swedish before… Then take this advantage and listen to a poem that is like a fairy tale…