Tag Archives: Swedish folklore

St. Lucia’s Day Sweden

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (SC).

HS: So you have some particular traditions that you celebrate here in the United States that you got from your Swedish heritage, is that right?

SC: Oh yeah. Lots of stuff that we do and when I tell people they’re like, really? I’ve never heard of this before! So we celebrate Santa Lucia or St. Lucia Day- it’s kind of like a pre-Christmas holiday. It’s a really big thing back in Sweden where my family is from and we’ve kind of carried it on out here. It basically commemorates this girl who died while bringing food to Christians that were trying to escape the Romans. My daughter dresses up in all white to represent the purity of Saint Lucia and there’s a big feast after. Lots of amazing food. You’ve gotta try saffron bread.

Background:

My informant is a co-worker from my job. He is a Relationship Banker, and so we work a lot less closely than my other co-workers on the teller line. Regardless, he is a great guy and we enjoy a little office rivalry- he went to UCLA. Yuck. His parents immigrated to the United States from Sweden, but because he still has a lot of family living there, he visits a lot and in the process has brought back a lot of Swedish traditions to his family here in the United States.

Context:

We had gotten all of the pre-opening work done that we needed to get done, and it just so happened that our Branch Manager brought in some Dunkin Donuts to rally the morale of the troops. And so my co-worker and I sit there, grubbing some glazed donuts, going about the usual surface-level conversation. The typical weekend updates, customer complaints, all the good stuff. I decided to shift the conversation to talk about a tradition that my family and I had done the past weekend and asked if he had any that he did with his family. He was delighted to hear the question and started elaborating immediately.

Thoughts:

It was interesting to learn about this tradition and how important it is in Swedish culture. According to some brief research that I did about the holiday, it is supposed to mark a time of light and happiness in a time of a lot of darkness. A lot of schools end classes early so that families can prepare for the festivities. The aspect of the holiday that I found most intriguing was how it incorporates both pagan and Christian traditions. This has to do with an inherent struggle between light and darkness that Pagan culture elaborates a lot upon, as the geographic location of Sweden leads to long periods of light and darkness instead of the typical day. Scholars have gone as far as to say that St. Lucia is simply the Norse goddess Freya “dressed up” as a Christian saint.

Source of Pagan “dress up” theory:
https://www.norwegianamerican.com/victory-light-winters-dark-gloom/#:~:text=Some%20scholars%20believe%20that%20the,up%E2%80%9D%20as%20a%20Christian%20saint.

Våffeldagen

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (SC).

SC: *Brings in waffles for everyone at work*

HS: No way! Thank you! These look absolutely amazing.

SC: No problem man. It was waffle day yesterday, but I wasn’t here. We have to celebrate today.

HS: There’s a waffle day?

SC: Yeah. It’s something that my family does that we got from Sweden. It’s called Våffeldagen. It’s actually a funny backstory. So we used to celebrate Vårfrudagen, which is another Swedish holiday, but because the names for the holiday and waffles are so similar, we just eat waffles instead.

Background:

My informant is a co-worker from my job. He is a Relationship Banker, and so we work a lot less closely than my other co-workers on the teller line. Regardless, he is a great guy and we enjoy a little office rivalry- he went to UCLA. Yuck. His parents immigrated to the United States from Sweden, but because he still has a lot of family living there, he visits a lot and in the process has brought back a lot of Swedish traditions to his family here in the United States.

Context:

It was about 10:00 am at work, and all of us were getting our pre-opening work done when my informant came in with some waffles that his family had made.

Thoughts:

I never thought that some waffles would be the catalyst for a piqued interest in linguistics, but here we are. The fact that Swedes celebrate Vårfrudagen, or “Our Lady’s Day,” by eating waffles because waffles in Swedish sounds like Vårfrudagen, is, for some reason, just so interesting to me. It made me realize the real effect that language has on our everyday lives. Prior to hearing about this cultural development, I would have argued that the spelling of a word is rather arbitrary and probably has very little impact on culture. Våffeldagen, or Waffle Day, is proof that language has a profound impact on cultural and societal development.

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.

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.

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.