Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 30
December 2010

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt

Sankta Lucia....
On December 13, early in the morning, while it's still completely dark outside, Lucia enters homes, schools and work places, dressed in a long white dress and with a crown of lights in her hair. She is accompanied by her tärnor and stjärngossar, young girls and boys, singing. It's the beginning of the holiday celebrations here in Sweden, festivities that will continue until early January.

What's in this newsletter? 
  More about Lucia, and Jul (Christmas), those wonderful, warm, fun holidays, children's absolute favorite.

  Are you starting to make plans to travel to Sweden next summer? Some things you need to think about before leaving.

  Words from a customer who visited Sweden and her relatives last summer. Result: she found relatives both in Sweden and in the USA. 

1. Lucia, jul and nyår
If you lived, like we do, with very short days, you would understand why we light candles and little decorative lamps everywhere we can during this time of the year.  Right now the sun sets before 3 PM in the Stockholm area, but in Kiruna, Lappland, the sun does not rise at all!  Click on the English flag, and on "webcameras" and there is Kiruna under the lack of sun. Even during the day it's dark, but not quite, because the sun is just below the horizon. And then there is all that snow... 

Our little town, Norrtälje, is also covered with snow. As soon as the sun sets, people turn on lights in windows everywhere, magically illuminating streets and sidewalks. One festivity follows the other one: Julmarknad, with stands where  everything from colorful wool mittens to hot glögg is sold. You don't know about glögg? Learn how to make it here.

The Lucia celebration is coming up very soon, on December 13, the darkest day of the year (in the older calendar). It's a celebration of light and beauty and song. Here you can visit Lucia, celebrated at Anders Zorn's home in Mora, Dalarna.

Jul (Christmas) should be quite special this year, with so much snow. The important day in Sweden is julafton, Christmas Eve, when families and friends get together eating dinner and opening presents brought by jultomten. Perhaps you would like to meet jultomten? Give him a minute or so to arrive, he is a bit slow... This is a very well-known poem by Viktor Rydberg about the little man who lives on the farm and protects it.  If you would like the text, in Swedish and in English, you can find it here. More here about tomte!

Some Swedish Jul music that I hope you will enjoy:

Sofia Karlsson sings Julvisa i Finnmarken, by Dan Andersson, much loved Swedish poet. She also sings Gläns över sjö och strand, a classic jul song.

The Real Group is having fun with Swedish jul music.

Even though this is not a song for jul, I cannot resist including Jussi Björling singing Ack Värmeland du sköna, a love song to Värmland, with beautiful photos.

If you now feel like baking some lussekatter (see above) for Lucia, here is a recipe. Lussekatt means Lucia cat (why this name, I really don't know). This recipe yields 40  "cats".

1 g saffron
6 oz sugar
7 Tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
50 g (3 1/2 Tablespoons) yeast
1 cup kesella (Ricotta cheese works fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 cups wheat flour
raisins for decoration
1 egg beaten for brushing

Carefully crush saffron with a sugar cube in a mortar. Put a little bit of the milk in the mortar. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Pour in the rest of the milk and heat until lukewarm. Put the crushed saffron into the milk mixture.
Crumble the yeast into a big bowl and stir it with a little bit of the milk mixture until the yeast is completely dissolved. Add the rest of the milk mixture, kesella, salt, and sugar.

Add most of the flour, save a bit for later. Work into a dough and let rise under a towel for 30-40 minutes.
Work the dough on a floured surface. Divide into two parts and roll them out lengthwise. Divide each length into 20 pieces and roll them out to about 10” long, make them into “S” shapes. Let these S-shaped buns rise on oven papered baking plates for 30-40 minutes. Preheat oven to 450°F. Decorate with raisins and brush with the beaten egg. Bake for 5-10 minutes.

The above comes from the newspaper Nordstjernan.

After all that fun, perhaps it's time to get serious...

2. Are you making plans to go to Sweden?

If so, there are lots of things to think about. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Start your research early: Cold and dark winter days are perfect for sitting by your computer and work on finding that Swedish parish and village where your  grandmother lived. If work, child-care and more takes too much of your time, write to me, and perhaps I can help you.
  • Buy some good and detailed maps: On this website, click on Terrängkartan, then Terrängkartan, folded and finally on the area you are interested in. Voilà - ready to pay for it. You should have it in your mailbox within a week. You'll need these maps during your research and also when you get to Sweden.
  • Find your Swedish relatives: This will make your trip especially exciting. You probably have living relatives somewhere in Sweden - who would like to meet you! They might live in the area where your family grew up, but perhaps instead in a bigger city. It's a good idea to get this work done soon, so that you know what areas of Sweden you want to visit. Finding the relatives is the most difficult part of your research and you probably will need some help - and this is where I can help. 
  • Buy your airline ticket: On the internet is cheaper, but you might feel more comfortable visiting your travel agency. Most likely you will fly into Stockholm,  but if your ancestors came from the southern part of Sweden, you might want to choose Copenhagen, in Denmark, and take a short train ride to Malmö, Sweden.
  • When to go: Spring, summer or fall - no problem. But winter days are very short, which could make it difficult to visit the places you want to see. Late June, from midsummer on, and through July, most Swedes are on vacation (yes, that is several weeks!) and are therefore often more available to meet with you and take you around. And the days are very long... May is less crowded everywhere and so is September, and both can be very pleasant. Plane tickets are usually somewhat less expensive in May and September.
  • Book hotels: There are various degrees of comfort and prices. Vandrarhem are quite inexpensive. They have rooms with shower, but you have to ask for them. Svenska Turistföreningen has more information (yes, in English). If you prefer a more comfortable hotel, the local tourist office can help you find one. Visit Sweden is a useful website and so is  Sverigeturism.
  • Travel within Sweden: If your destination is far from any of the bigger cities, you might consider taking the train or a bus to the area. For local travel you will want to rent a car, to go between your hotel, relatives, farm, church, and other places. The local tourist offices can help you.
  • Gifts: I often get questions about what your relatives might like. It's helpful to realize that most everything is available in Sweden. Something from the area where you live, perhaps a book with beautiful photos, or some specialty from the area, and, of course, photos of your family are always appreciated.
  • Clothes: What you will take depends, of course, on the season and where you are going, since the climate varies between the northern and southern part of the country. I suggest that you take a couple of warm sweaters, a windbreaker, slacks or jeans, shirts, very comfortable shoes (count on walking quite a bit), and rain clothes.  Swedes are no longer very formal (they used to be) so comfortable everyday clothes are fine.


3. Remember Shelley Jones
from our last newsletter? She went to Sweden this summer and wrote to tell me about her very exciting trip. I want to share her experiences with you (which might motivate you to take the step and visit Sweden soon):

... I had the most wonderful experience in Sweden this past summer.  I visited my cousin Gunilla in Umea.  She took me to my grandfather’s birthplace, where I met many other relatives.  We toured the farm, shared photos, and learned the history of the family.  My Swedish family had been curious for many years as to what became of my grandfather.

However, the most fascinating thing happened while we were visiting the farm. We learned that another American (to whom I am related) had visited 2 months was her family who my grandfather came to the U.S. to meet. ... I met her last week-end and we shared photos, memories of our trips, and genealogical records. 

The trip fulfilled a long-time dream of mine to find and meet my Swedish family.  The big surprise was to learn that I had a cousin in the U.S. with the same dream, and who traveled to the same place, the same summer,  and who lives only a few hours from me. 

You truly have been a “Bridge to Sweden.” I can’t thank you enough for your help in making this dream come true!