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Christmas-time: Swedish Smorgasbord, Train Park, and Caroling

Posted By Charly Charney Cohen On May 16, 2014 @ 8:08 pm In Holidays,Rituals, festivals, holidays | Comments Disabled

Informant’s self- description: “I see myself as very American. I come from a family that my parents have had a happy marriage for many years and I think that has definitely informed my life, more so than I had realized when I was growing up, when it just seemed like, oh that’s just what it is – but now interacting with other people when that wasn’t the case it’s definitely a unique perspective on relationships and everything in general. I feel like that’s a defining thing.  Family’s a really big deal – we have multiple gatherings throughout the year. Most of my family lives in the same state so we’ll all get together a ton of times throughout the year. So family is a big identifying thing and a really important thing to me. Another one is that I like to see myself as a creative person with all the things that come with that, which is – I might be going totally off the rails with this. I feel like – being a creative person I don’t know how much of it is things I just associate with creative people, so I just see that as something I should live up to, but there’s a whole ‘troubled writer’ persona – there are times were you just kinda want to fit in to that. There are times when I feel like I should live up to that ‘ideal writer.’ Another thing that comes with being creative and to me – there’s a romanticism to the bohemian lifestyle, ‘we can just make it with nothing but our art and each other. And that’s all you need to survive.’ And that’s a cool thing instead of ‘that’s a horrible idea, and you’re basically homeless.’ But to me there’s a romanticism in that.”

You said family gatherings are a really big thing. You said you just consider yourself American. But beyond that does your family have any specific heritage that you guys are proud of?

Swedish, absolutely Swedish. On Christmas we always have a Swedish smorgasbord for dinner and we all bring stuff for it.

Are there any traditional dishes that you guys make?

There’s lots of fish and I’m not a big fan of fish to be honest, but I always put up with it – I’m a fan of the tradition. So I can handle it. Part of it is though I – it’s an interesting thing. At least being American I feel like there are now these traditions – definitely things – I’m just gonna associate them with Christmastime, ‘cause that’s when  can most clearly see stuff. But there are things I’ve picked up from my family that I don’t know when it became a tradition – like we actually talked about this recently. I was like “I don’t know when it was decided we would do this every year” but it just became one of those things. So there’s a bunch and I can remember at what point in my life those got added to the traditions. So we did. But there’s a train park in my hometown and it’s open year-round but at Christmastime they deck the train track out with lights, and they have these mini trains that we always thought were cooler for some reason, I don’t know why. That’s a place we would always go every time the family got together. We would go there. So any year when we didn’t, us kids – my brother and then also my cousins are the kids – this is on my mom’s side of the family – I really remember distinctly one year we got together and we were just having dinner around Christmastime and we were like “when are we going to the train park?” and they were like “oh, we’re not doing it today” and we were like “WHAT? We do it every Christmas!” I think we had done it like two Christmases before, but it became essential after that. Another thing more recently is I did choir in high school, which is ridiculous looking back on it. But I did it. We – there was a small group of us that would go caroling at Christmastime. We just did it one year because we had off time, and we were like why not – Mill Avenue was the big college street in my hometown and that’s where we went. We dressed up in old caroler stuff and went there.

What is “old caroler stuff?”

Like Victorian caroler outfits. Which we had, I don’t know why. But we had them. Because we had caroling gigs that were concerts, for our choir. And we just had the outfits and were like “ah, let’s just do it.”  And so we hung out throughout the night there and just sang songs. And then – that was my senior year, so we all went off to college. But over winter break, a lot of people were home and they were just like “let’s do it again” so now it’s become this thing we do whenever we go back home. It’s interesting seeing – I feel that with tradition you tie so much of it into the past but you sometimes forget new ones will be created and you’re not intentionally setting out to create one, but you’re beginning one whether you know it or not.

Tell me more about this caroling tradition that you guys started. You said you guys just decided to do it one year. But who was the one who really brought it up?

I was kinda the ringleader of it. I was a big showman in high school, I don’t know why. But I just was. Because – we had caroling gigs. We had multiple times where we would go to different competitions and we would do it, so we had the repertoire memorized. And there’s always musical groups on that street. And we had time in between two things we were supposed to be at, and I found other people I knew who were really into choir, and I was like “hey, why don’t we get together and do this.”

What were some of the songs that you guys sang?

I know one of them very clearly was I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Because we had little kazoos for one of the verses. Which had to have just been so annoying. But we had them. That’s the one that sticks out.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Only a hippopotamus will do

Don’t want – “

Well and then the kazoo part would be same tune.

Did you learn that as part of your choir repertoire?

Yeah. We had a caroling book that they gave us. It was  odd when I think back on it, but we had set out – because there were concerts that the whole school did, and we were in this smaller that was still led by the choir director but we would go off and do little gigs at places. Like at a retirement home and stuff like that. We would just go and carol to them. So we had to memorize this book of songs, and it was all acapella.  That’s why we decided to do it because we didn’t even need any instruments and could just go out there and do it.

So caroling is something you had grown up around?

In a way, but it wasn’t even growing up around it so much as it was suddenly there in high school. Obviously I knew the songs, and I was aware of the songs when I was little. But I – I hadn’t ever done it as a kid. My family never went around caroling.

Did people come to your house?

No, no – so that’s why it was – it was very sudden in high school that we decided to do this. I mean it was brought  about by our teacher at first, but then we just decided we would have our fun with it and just do it. There were a lot of showboats in our high school choir Probably any choir – it comes with the territory.

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Informant started taking unexpected tangents, but I think this works collectively as an impression of the way the informant celebrated the winter holiday.


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