USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Swedish’
Customs
Festival
Foodways
general
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

1. Julmust: A Crucial Part of a Swedish Christmas

Background information:

Julmust is very easy to find in grocery stores all around Sweden from November to January, as it is in high demand and often replaces the original Coca-Cola. At any other point of time during the year, however, it is very difficult to find as it is not Christmas season during the months outside the range of November to January. Therefore, as this drink is not always available, it makes the drink much more appealing to people because many enjoy the taste, feel that they can better celebrate Christmas with it, and feel that they will miss out if they do not drink it when it is available during the Christmas season, as they will need to wait until the next year to drink it if they choose not to drink it that Christmas.

 

Main Piece:

In Swedish Christmas traditions, food is an extremely important part of the celebration. Usually the array of Christmas foods or “julbord”, literally translated to “Christmas table”, does not vary much from family to family. The “julbord” usually always contains the Christmas ham among many other Christmas foods typically found around the world. A specific Christmas food that is significantly different from others around the world, however, is the Swedish “Julmust”. Anyone who has celebrated Christmas in Sweden knows about the importance of Julmust at the Christmas table, as a Christmas meal is not complete without Julmust. Julmust is a staple for many Swedish families, including mine, around Christmas time as it is basically a more festive version of Coca-Cola. It is seen as festive because it tastes very similar to regular Coca-Cola but also has a blend of spices mixed into the drink that give the flavor more of a holiday feeling. For this reason, many, including my family, feel that Julmust is essential to celebrating Christmas because they have the perfect Christmas drink to complement the Christmas foods at the julbord. Because I was raised with Julmust being an integral part of my Christmas celebrations, I cannot imagine Christmas without it. Julmust not only tastes good, but also is a drink that everyone in my family enjoys and therefore brings us together around the holiday season.

When we moved from Sweden to California when I was almost six years old, however, it was very difficult to find Julmust in grocery stores because American grocery stores do not know what Julmust is and therefore do not carry the drink. As a result, through searching online forums, visiting special Scandinavian grocery stores that were hours away, and going to IKEA, we were able to locate Julmust at IKEA and the Scandinavian markets and were thus able to celebrate Christmas in the United States with this drink every year thereafter.

 

Personal thoughts:

I am a huge fan of Julmust and cannot imagine my Christmas experience without it. Even though I have lived in the United States since I was almost six years old, I will never forget my Swedish roots and will continue to practice even the most trivial Swedish traditions such as drinking Julmust when celebrating Christmas.

Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

Caviar, raw garlic, hard toasted bread to get over a cold

Background information:

It is often considered that mothers know best, and this piece of folklore is in complete accordance to this idea. As an immigrant to the United States, my mom was certainly open to new ideas and remedies to help with colds and sore throats but found that this home-remedy that she had concocted was extremely useful in fending off bacteria and decreasing the amount of time that it takes to fight a cold and ultimately feel better. She had created this home-remedy when she was in her young adulthood when she had been stuck with a cold. Since she lived in Sweden at the time, she used ingredients that were common in Sweden, such as caviar and hard bread. When we moved to the United States, however, she was not able to find the same ingredients as were available in Sweden and therefore imported caviar and located grocery stores which sold the specific hard bread she was looking for, and therefore carried over this home-remedy to the United States from Sweden.

 

Main Piece:

Whenever I would get a cold or feel under the weather, my mom instantly knew what to do. Aside from being the perfect mother in always supplying me with cough drops, tissues, checking in on me, and overall tending to my needs, she shared with me a fantastic home-remedy to fight off bacteria and get over a cold quicker. I believe that she found this home-remedy herself and used some ingredients that are common in Sweden but not necessarily common in the United States. Her home-remedy consisted of a single piece of crisp, hard bread, which is very commonly found in Swedish grocery stores. On top of this piece of hard bread, she would smear on caviar to coat the entire surface, and then top this with raw garlic. In Sweden, caviar is very common as well, and is often stored in a toothpaste-like tube that is available everywhere in Sweden. Whenever she would give me this piece of hard bread with caviar and raw garlic on top, I would feel significantly better as the day went on. She claimed that the reason as to why this home-remedy was so successful was due to the raw garlic being so concentrated and therefore was good at fighting off bacteria. Additionally, she claimed that because the piece of bread used was very hard and crisp, it created friction with the sore throat, which helped the scratchy and uncomfortable feeling often associated with colds.

 

Personal thoughts:

I always thought that this home-remedy was very strange because the ingredients did not completely agree with my personal taste. When I tried it for the first time when I was young, however, I found that it was actually extremely helpful and aided me in getting over my cold. Therefore, I will always keep this remedy with me because it is a tried and true way of fighting off a cold.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic

Hia Hia Witch (Swedish)

Background information:

My grandmother was born in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden, and has three sisters who are roughly the same age as her. Together, they have always been best friends and have supported each other through everything. My grandmother and her sisters all have grandchildren, and us grandchildren go out to our collectively shared summerhouse in the Swedish archipelago every summer. This summerhouse was built by my grandmother’s parents and has been in the family for a while, giving it immense sentimental value. The shared summerhouse is located roughly two hours outside of Stockholm, Sweden by a boat ride and is very peaceful as it is located on an island called Södra Träskö that is completely without cars or internet connection.

 

Main piece:

Ever since I was young, my grandmother and her sisters talked about the famous witch that lived in the middle of the island where our shared summerhouse is located: her name was Hia Hia. Every summer when we visited the summerhouse, my grandmother and her sisters would take all of the grandchildren to the middle of the island where Hia Hia supposedly lived and we would search for her. My grandmother and her sisters would hide and someone would shout “Hia Hia”, pronounced “Heeyah Heeyah” which would spook all of the younger children as they did not notice that one of the grandmothers had disappeared and though that the witch, Hia Hia, was making the noises. Delving deeper and exploring more of the middle of the island, it was always apparent that “Hia Hia” had left small goody bags of candy for the grandchildren on an abandoned treehouse that was located in the very middle of the island. As the grandchildren, including I, became older, we realized that Hia Hia was in fact our grandmothers, but carry this tradition onto the children of the newer generations of our family, so that they can experience the fun that we had with Hia Hia at Södra Träskö.

 

Personal thoughts:

This is one of my favorite traditions that my grandmother introduced me to, as it truly shaped my experience visiting the summerhouse on the island in Sweden. My grandmother is a creative woman who does everything she can to make people happy and truly knows how to live into childrens’ fantasies, which I am very grateful for.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Signs

Midsommar flowers under the pillow

Background information:

My grandmother was born in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden, and has three sisters who are roughly the same age as her. Together, they have always been best friends and have supported each other through everything. My grandmother and her sisters all have grandchildren, and us grandchildren go out to our collectively shared summerhouse in the Swedish archipelago every summer. This summerhouse was built by my grandmother’s parents and has been in the family for a while, giving it immense sentimental value. The shared summerhouse is located roughly two hours outside of Stockholm, Sweden by a boat ride and is very peaceful as it is located on an island called Södra Träskö that is completely without cars or internet connection.

 

Main piece:

My grandmother and her sisters routinely told me when I was growing up that I needed to put seven different types of flowers under my pillow on the day of Midsommar’s eve. They said that by putting seven different types of flowers under my pillow before I went to bed on Midsommar’s eve, I would have a vivid and colorful dream about my future husband. In order for the dream to be as accurate as possible, they stated that the steps in this ritual needed to be completed correctly, and therefore there needed to be seven flowers, each of a different kind, and they needed to be completely under my pillow before I fell asleep in order for this dream to project the most realistic and accurate image of my future husband. This was a ritual that had been taught to my grandmother and her sisters by their mother.

Personal thoughts:

I always thought this was a weird tradition, because I never believed that this was realistic and felt that there was no possible correlation between placing flowers under a pillow and dreaming about my future partner. My sister, who is much more of a romantic and dreamer than me, however, did this ritual every year and claimed that she got a sense of who she was going to marry. This, therefore, fueled her excitement and made her very happy for the future.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative

MacGyver scavenger hunt tradition

Background information:

My grandmother was born in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden, and has three sisters who are roughly the same age as her. Together, they have always been best friends and have supported each other through everything. My grandmother and her sisters all have grandchildren, and us grandchildren go out to our collectively shared summerhouse in the Swedish archipelago every summer. This summerhouse was built by my grandmother’s parents and has been in the family for a while, giving it immense sentimental value. The shared summerhouse is located roughly two hours outside of Stockholm, Sweden by a boat ride and is very peaceful as it is located on an island called Södra Träskö that is completely without cars or internet connection.

 

Main piece:

Among other fantasies and games that my grandmother and her sisters created for the children visiting the summerhouse in the archipelago every summer, I vividly remember my grandmother’s creation of the MacGyver annual scavenger hunt. My grandmother and her sisters are amazing with children and therefore try to do everything to get their grandchildren to enjoy themselves when they are at the summerhouse. The MacGyver annual scavenger hunt around the summerhouse property was created by my grandmother as a way for the grandchildren to follow a scavenger hunt to ultimately attain a small toy prize in the end. She organized this scavenger hunt by placing various notes in different locations throughout the summerhouse property on the island of Södra Träskö with each note leading to the next. The final note therefore led to the small toy prize for the grandchildren, with my grandmother saying that MacGyver had created this scavenger hunt for the children which we all believed until we became older and realized that it was my grandmother all along.

 

Personal thoughts:

Ever since I was young, I looked forward to the MacGyver scavenger hunt which was held at our shared summerhouse every summer. This is a very informal event, with my grandmother organizing this for her grandchildren as well as her sister’s grandchildren. It is a very simple event but has a tremendously happy impact on the children and their feeling about the summerhouse.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

Blåkulla

Background information:

My mother and father introduced me to this piece of folklore when I was younger. They were both born in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden and have been raised in the city suburbs by parents that were all from the inner city of Stockholm.

 

Main piece:

Literally translated, “Blåkulla” means “blue hill” in Swedish. This piece of folklore is about the location of Blåkulla and witches, and how these two are in relation to one another. Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where all of the witches in Sweden supposedly meet up to celebrate the Sabbath of the witches. To get to Blåkulla, these witches traveled on broomsticks, so in order for the witches to be unable to travel to Blåkulla, people often hide their broomsticks and all of the supplies that can make broomsticks. Essentially, my parents explained that the witches travel to Blåkulla three days prior to Easter, on the Thursday, and therefore, everyone does what they can to stop the witches from going to Blåkulla on this day. In addition to hiding brooms and supplies, Swedes traditionally create fires or make loud noises outside to scare the witches and prevent them from engaging in the witches’ Sabbath at Blåkulla.

 

Personal thoughts:

My family has never been religious so my parents taught me this tradition in regards to it being just that: a tradition and not an event that was celebrated in respect to Christianity and Easter. When I was younger, I was very interested in witchcraft and thought this was a very exciting time of the year, and therefore associated Blåkulla with Easter instead of focusing on Easter in regard to Christianity.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection

Trolls in Scandinavian Folklore

Background information:

My dad, Anders, has been working in the realm of business since he was in his early twenties. He started working in Sweden at a tech company and then moved on to work at Hewlett-Packard when we moved to Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. Aside from his very serious and demanding job, he absolutely loves trolls and what they represent in Scandinavian culture. I grew up having numerous trolls around the house, as he loved to decorate the house with tiny statues and décor.

 

Main piece:

When discussing my dad’s love for trolls, I asked him where he developed this high regard for trolls. He said that his grandmother, who lived in a country-town in Småland, Sweden, always told him that they were safe and doing well in life because the trolls around them always had their eyes open for danger and would therefore protect them from bad things that could happen. He added onto this, saying that he had a fantastic fantasy and creative mind growing up, and felt that these trolls that his grandmother had talked to him about were like his imaginary friends and were friendly spirits who just wanted everything to go well in the world and protect those living on their land. Therefore, my dad has really enjoyed collecting little statues of trolls throughout his life because he feels that he wants to pay a tribute to everything that the trolls do to make our daily lives better and also has these trolls around the house to protect our house from danger and to boost the positive energy in the house.

 

Personal thoughts:

Because I have grown up with my dad, I learned from a young age that trolls were very friendly creatures and were there to simply spread positivity and help. Thus, I never understood why some people regarded trolls as being evil or scary, but rather saw trolls as doing what they could to make the world a better place and felt relieved to have the support of the trolls when life took wrong turns. I thought it was funny how the movie, Frozen, included trolls because the film is set to be in Scandinavia and also showed the trolls to be helpful beings who were very knowledgeable about nature and cures, just as I have imagined them as well. I was therefore glad that a movie that has been shown all around the world was able to show trolls as being positive influences in the world instead of showing them as being evil or violent, as some often regard them.

 

For a version of how trolls are portrayed in the movie, Frozen, see the information about trolls listed on the Disney Wikia page:

 

“Trolls (Frozen).” Disney Wiki, disney.wikia.com/wiki/Trolls_(Frozen).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nisse in Swedish Culture

Background information:

Like my dad, my mom also had legend characters that she believed in. Whenever Christmas rolled around, she would always talk about the “nisse”, (plural: “nissar”) and said that these tiny little helpers were part of what made Christmas the amazing and cozy event that it is.

 

Main piece:

My mother had very high respect for the “nissar” as she told us from a young age that they helped with the logistics and took care of a lot of work to prepare for Christmas. As such, she made sure to bring them to my sister’s and my attention every Christmas. She did this by saying that the “nissar” had dropped off small gifts in our Christmas stockings randomly throughout the Christmas season. There was no organization or special time that the “nissar” dropped off the gifts into our stockings, but I remember her telling me that the “nissar” would only drop off gifts if we had been respectful to the “nissar” and been friendly overall. Every Christmas, the “nissar” would visit and drop off small gifts in our stockings around three times total: sometimes they would visit more, other times they would visit less, it all depended on the year. As I grew older, I realized that my mom was the one that was putting the gifts in the stockings, but she was always adamant that she was just a messenger of the “nissar” and was helping them out.

 

Personal thoughts:

I really enjoyed this tradition and the legend of the “nisse” because it brought a lot of happiness and excitement to my Christmas experience when I was growing up. I remember talking to my American friends about the “nisse” when I was younger and although none of them could relate to me, they always thought that the “nisse” sounded amazing and very generous, which I regard them as being, as well. Because this was such a heartfelt and warm memory, I will be sure to share this tradition in the future.

Musical

The Trollmom’s Lullaby

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Song:

När trollmor har lagt sina elva små troll

och bundit dom fast i svansen,

då sjunger hon sakta för elva små trollen

de vackraste ord hon känner:

Ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff buff!

Ho aj aj aj aj buff.

Informant: There’s a song that my mom would always sing to me in Swedish about trolls. It’s called Trollmors Vaggivisa, which literally translates into The Trollmom’s Lullaby. It’s about how this trollmom puts her 11 kids to bed, and the kids are trolls obviously, and how she sings a song to them after, and then it literally says when troll mom puts her 11 small trolls to bed and ties up their tails.

Collector: Wait, do trolls have tails?

Informant: These trolls do. And then the last part of the song says that she sings slowly to the 11 small trolls the prettiest words she knows. And then it goes like “ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff buff ho ai ai ai ai buff.”

Collector: What does that mean?

Informant: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s giberish. It’s just supposed to be the prettiest words that the mom knows. And my mom used to sing this to me when I was a kid, and she has always sung it to us even when we were older. When I was in France and missing Sweden, she would always sing that to calm us down and put us to sleep, actually. It reminded me of home.

Collector: Why do you liked this song?

Informant: I think there was always something comforting about my mom singing it to me. It was calming and it made me feel like I was back home in Sweden.

I found this song particularly funny, because there isn’t really any meaning to it at all. I think that’s what makes this song particularly endearing, because it’s a cute little bedtime story about trolls. Even though it’s a song about trolls, it has significant meaning for my friend, as it connects her to her Swedish culture. Being international myself, I know how hard it can be to be away from home, and how important it is to have things that can connect you back to your culture.

Festival
Musical

Midsummer

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There is a ritual, kinda like a Swedish holiday, but not really. It’s called a Swedish name that means something like midsummer. And it’s generally in June, and it’s basically welcoming summer, so you get a big big cross and you decorate it with flowers and on each arm you put circles, you hang them on the cross, it looks like the things you put on your door for Christmas. Midsummer this year is on the 24th of June. Also what you do is pluck flowers and make flower crowns that you wear for this thing. All that you really do on this day is you just like get together with people. There are different parties or you can do this cross thing with your family or you can go to a big party with everyone in your town depending on your preference and then you usually picnic over there. You have food outside, and you dance around the cross and sing different songs.

Collector: What kind of songs?

Informant: These are typical songs for midsummer, this one song is called the small frogs, literally translated. It goes like this:

Smoagruden na

Smoagruden na

Ad lustiga asia

Ad lustiga asia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

Cua ca ca Cua ca ca

That last part is supposed to be a like a frog sound. So when they say the first part you run around the cross until the second part, and then you put your hands on your ears and make them look like cow ears, and when it says svan sa you put your hands on your butt making it look like a tail. And during cua ca ca you jump with your two feet at the same time around the cross like a frog.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I think it’s a cute tradition that you do with your family. It’s the small kids that really enjoy it, I liked it a lot when I was a kid. It’s a good time to spend with your family and friends, and have fun with them. It’s one of the biggest rituals in Sweden. And even people who go abroad like me carry it with them, and when I lived in France we used to make our own cross in our garden. It’s just like a really nice time to get together with my family and it’s just like really fun. More than celebrating summer, it’s a family thing

I think it’s interesting that two of the pieces of folklore that my Swedish friend told me involved songs with small creatures and gibberish at the end. It makes me wonder if that is a common pattern in Swedish folk songs. I think this is a cute little tradition, and although I’m not Swedish and have never done anything like Midsummer, I remember how much I used to enjoy doing similar things as a kid. I also think it’s cool that my friend carried it abroad with her, and that she still celebrated and underwent this ritual with the cross even though she was no longer in the country that celebrated it.

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