St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

Luciadagen, or St. Lucia’s Day,  is a special day in Sweden that is celebrated annually on December 13th. Also known as the Festival of Lights, St. Lucia’s Day occurs one week after St. Nikolaus’ Day. It is a wonderful tradition that is meant to bring light into the darkness of the long Scandinavian winter.

On St. Lucia’s day you will see thousands of young girls emerge from the darkness of a Swedish winters day and gently silence the crowds with a procession of light. Dressed as Lucia’s maidens, in flowing white gowns, each girl holds a candle and wears a wreath of glowing candles in her hair. Children solemnly proceed through cities, towns and churches, giving out saffron buns and singing Lucia’s beautiful melodies, dressed as gingerbread men, elves and stjärngossar.

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In Sweden, the winter solstice was formerly observed on December 13th (in accordance with the old Julian calendar). The date marked a pagan festival of lights in honor of the shortest and darkest day of the year–a time when it was believed that demons and spirits would plague the earth and animals could talk (not unlike early celebrations of Halloween). The threshing and slaughtering were expected to be done, as people braced themselves for the start of winter.

With time and the spread of Christianity, however, the Swedish winter solstice became enmeshed with the figure of Saint Lucia, and December 13th became a celebration in her honor–complete with costumes, music, processions, and glogg. 

Several legends exist to explain Saint Lucia’s martyrdom. In one version of events, young Lucia would sneak away during the night to bring food to starving Christians hidden in the catacombs of Rome. Traveling the dark tunnels, she placed candles in a wreath around her head, so she might carry as much food as possible to those starving underground. Eventually she was discovered and was put to death.

Swedish lore builds on the story of her death, telling the tale of a winter that brought terrible famine to Sweden. On the dark, bitter night of December 13th, a ship approached across Lake Vannern. The starving Swedes gathered on the shore to watch the ship approach and saw in the distance a woman dressed in white, standing at the helm, the light of the ship encircling her head with a gentle glow. Familiar with the Italian lore of Saint Lucia delivering food to the destitute Christians, the villagers believed she had come to rescue them from certain death.

The modern tradition of observance began in the 1700s and involves the eldest daughter in a family dressing up as a Lucia in a white dress with a red sash, and wearing a wreath of candles on her head (today, electric candles are often used). The Lucia’s crown is made with lingonberry branches, which are evergreen. The crown, together with the candlelight it carries, symbolizes the celebration of light in darkness, enduring through the long winter’s night.

The Lucia is accompanied by handmaidens, who each carry a candle, and star boys, who wear pointed paper hats and carry stars. The processions of the Lucia, handmaidens, and star boys typically end with a rendition of Santa Lucia (several Swedish variations exist of the Neapolitan tune), and often the Tipp Tapp song. Prior to the 1700s, when the Swedish population was still quite rural and agrarian, celebrations were far less formal. Children dressed up and went door to door singing, and receiving snacks and snaps in exchange.

Each year, Lucias are chosen in schools, offices, and towns–there is even a national Lucia chosen to be drawn around in carriage, visiting hospitals and senior homes. Though the holiday is most closely associated with Sweden, it is also celebrated in parts of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia. Some believe Lucia travels by donkey distributing presents, and children will leave a sandwich for the two travelers, just as many children across the world leave cookies and milk for Santa. To accompany celebrations, lussekats (a sweet saffron bun) are eaten in the morning, while in the evening, ginger biscuits accompanied by the mulled wine glögg.

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In the video below, you can hear the song that is traditionally sung during St. Lucia processions throughout Sweden. It is extraordinarily beautiful.

This St. Lucia’s Day may you and your family be both bearers and witnesses of light within the darkness. God Jul!

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Beware of Krampus, The Holiday Devil

Beware of Krampus, The Holiday Devil

If you thought the Yule Trolls of Iceland were terrifying, meet Krampus. He is pretty much the exact opposite of Santa Claus. Krampus is a twisted half-demon/half-goat creature with sharp horns and hooves who enjoys terrorizing children in the central and eastern European Alps.

A greeting card featuring Krampus, called “Krampuskarten.” It says ‘Gruss vom Krampus!’ which translates to ‘Greetings from Krampus.’ Greeting cards like this  became popular in the 1800s.

Every year, on Krampusnacht (December 5th) he punishes the unfortunate misbehaving children that St Nicholas refuses to give candy to. He will hit the poor bad children with branches. Sometimes if they are really naughty, he stuffs them into his bag so he can take them back to his lair for dinner.

A spooky old photograph of Krampus and St Nicolas. The other creature beside them are Schabmanner or “Wild men” who are known to come around small isolated villages.

Krampus most certainly originated from pre-Christian, Germanic paganism. His name derived from the German word “Krampen”  which means claw. According to folklore, Krampus is the son of the Norse God Hel, who is the daughter of Loki and overseer of the underworld.

The Catholic Church and the Austrian government have attempted to abolish the tradition multiple times throughout history. However towards the end of the 20th century, the fierce Krampus tradition was revived.

Today people celebrate by participating in annual parades such as Krampuslauf (translated to Krampus Run in english). Young people dress up in terrifying costumes resembling Krampus and march around nearby Alpine towns and cities. Below is a video of the celebration.

Krampus and other exciting pre-Christian celebrations are gaining popularity in North America thanks to the Internet. Americans even made a movie about him which earned 61 million at the box office.

 

~Written by: Eva

Tasty Traditions: Scandinavian Glögg (Spiced Wine)

Tasty Traditions: Scandinavian Glögg (Spiced Wine)

Scandinavia is known for its frigid temperatures and shortened daylight hours during the winter time. It’s no wonder that the traditional mulled wine drink, Glögg, is a favorite during the coldest season of the year. Scandinavian Glögg (pronounced glook) is served warm, and is a great way to unwind after a long day spent outdoors in this wintry wonderland.

Drinking mulled wine dates back a long time in history and to begin with spices were added to less complex tasting wines. Wine was first recorded as spiced and heated in Rome during the second century. Ancient Greece also was a place where spiced wine was favored. The Romans sweetened their wine and added herbs and flowers.

During the Middle Ages, mulled wine was very popular in Europe. The herbs were also thought to have healing properties and to improve health. The Swedish King, Gustav Vasa, loved Claret, which was a blend of wine Rhen, sugar, honey, and spices. Lutendrank was the favorite drink of Swedish King Erik XIV. Two hundred and ten jugs of lutendrank were produced for his coronation in 1561.

The word Glögg comes from the word Glödga, which means to heat up. The phrase “Glödgat wine” appeared around 1609. In Europe people left behind the tradition of drinking spiced wine, but in Sweden it remained.

During the 1800s, Glögg became a Christmas tradition in Scandinavian countries like Sweden. Wine merchants began making their own versions, putting the wine in bottles, labeling them, and selling them. Today around five million liters of Glögg are consumed every year during the Christmas season.

The traditional Scandinavian mulled drink mixes wine and port with spices like clove, cardamom, and cinnamon to make for a brew that smells and tastes divine!

RECIPE: A SIMPLE GLOGG

Ingredients

  • Aquavit (or brandy or vodka)
  • Burgundy or pinot noir wine
  • Port wine
  • Raisins
  • White or brown sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cardamom seeds
  • One orange
  • One piece of ginger
  • Blanched almonds

STEP 1: Soak 1/2 cup of raisins in one cup of aquavit, brandy, or vodka. Soak for 30 minutes before proceeding to step 2.

STEP 2: Put a large pot on the stove, over high heat. Add one cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar to the pot, and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved.

STEP 3: Lower the heat to medium and add your spices – 2 sticks of cinnamon (each broken in half); 4 whole cloves ; 6 whole cardamom seeds, crushed by hand; a thinly shaved orange peel; and 1 small piece of ginger, peeled and cut in half. Stir again with wooden spoon. Do not allow the mix to come to a boil from this point on.

STEP 4: Add the raisin mixture, 2 cups of burgundy  or pinot noir wine and 2 cups of port wine.

STEP 5: Sweeten and spice to taste.

STEP 6: Strain, garnish with raisins and slices of blanched almonds. Serve hot off the stove.

NOTE: The drink can be made in advance and kept at room temperature. Be sure to warm it up before serving, however.

About the wine, port, and brandy. There is no need to invest in expensive wine, port, or brandy because the spices are going to preempt any innate complexity of a fine wine, but don’t use anything cheap. Remember, the sum will be no better than its parts. If you want to play, instead of brandy try using Swedish aquavit, a caraway flavored vodka popular in Scandinavia.

About the raisins. Golden raisins will work, but dark raisins are better.

About the cardamom. Cardamom comes in three forms: Pods, seeds, and powder. The pods look like orange seeds. Cardamom seed pods may be hard to find, so you may need to order them from a spice specialist like Penzeys.com, but don’t leave out the cardamom. Cardamom is the secret ingredient. The seeds within the pods are either black or tan, about 1/3 the size of peppercorns. If you can’t find pods and can only find seeds, use about 1 teaspoon of them. Do not use powder.

About the almonds. It is important to get naked cream-colored almonds that have had the shells and brown skins removed. The skins are bitter and full of brown coloring that can give the glögg a dusty texture. Do not use salted or smoked almonds. If you can only find almonds with skins, you can remove them by blanching them. Here’s how: Boil a pot of water, dump in the almonds, wait for the water to boil again, let them boil for about a minute, pour off the water, and rinse with cold water, and drain. The skins will slip right off if you pinch them.

About the cloves. Do not use powdered cloves.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! So, sit back, relax, and enjoy a Saintly Scandinavian delight.

 

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Swinging kilts and flying saltires for St Andrew’s Day in Scotland

Swinging kilts and flying saltires for St Andrew’s Day in Scotland

Every year on November 30th Scotland celebrates its national holiday. St Andrew’s Day (or in Scottish Gaelic ‘Là Naomh Anndrais’) not only celebrates the country’s patron saint but it is also a day filled with traditional Scottish food, music, poems, and dance.

According to legend a monk named Regulus brought relics of St Andrew to Scotland where he was given land to build a church by a Pictish king. The settlement grew into the town of St Andrew’s, where the cathedral in Kinrymount, Fife, became an important place of pilgrimage and the university, the oldest in Scotland, was founded in 1413.

The Scottish flag, the Saltire, is steeped in history and legend and is thought to be the oldest national flag in Europe. The saltire is based on the X-shaped cross on which St Andrew was crucified on November 30, 60 AD. An ancient story tells that a St Andrew’s Cross was seen in the sky by the Pictish King Angus MacFergus on the morning of a crucial battle in 832 AD between the Picts and the Angles. The Picts were inspired by the symbol and were victorious in battle.

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The Saltire, Scotland’s National Flag

It wasn’t until the year 1320 that St Andrew was made the official patron of Scotland at the Declaration of Arbroath. In 1390, St Andrew began to appear on coinage; however, the saint’s relics were destroyed during the Scottish Reformation in the 1500s.

FACTS ABOUT SAINT ANDREW

  • Saint Andrew was a fisherman in Galilee

  • St Andrew was one of the twelve apostles (disciples of Jesus) and brother of St Peter

  • St Andrew is believed to have died on a diagonally transverse cross which Romans sometimes used for executions and which, therefore, came to be called St Andrew’s Cross

  • St Andrew’s Day is connected with Advent, which begins on the first Sunday after November 26

  • St Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine

  • In Scotland, St Andrew’s Day is seen as the start of a season of Scottish winter festivals including Hogmanay and Burns Night

Among St Andrew’s many responsibilities, he is also the patron saint of unmarried women. Many folklore traditions surround this auspicious day. European girls would traditionally perform rituals, which might be anything from divining by pouring molten lead into water, to kicking a straw bed in the nude, while reciting the St Andrew’s prayer. While doing this they would, of course, look for a lucky sign of love.

ST ANDREW’S DAY AT HOME

Celebrate with a ceilidh! A popular form of social gathering in Scotland, ceilidhs were the traditional setting for dancing, singing, and storytelling. You and your family can celebrate your own feast. Let your main course be fish since St Andrew was a fisherman. Include some Scottish traditions, recite poems by Scottish poets, or recount the history of Scotland together as a family. If you’re feeling lively, get up and dance some traditional Scottish jigs!

Watch a short video about the patron saint of Scotland & the Scottish national holiday of St Andrew’s Day

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Pag Lacemaking, A Croatian Tradition

Pag Lacemaking, A Croatian Tradition

At least three distinct traditions of Lacemaking in Croatia persist today, centred on the towns of Pag on the Adriatic, Lepoglava in northern Croatia and Hvar on the Dalmatian island of the same name. Pag needle-point lace was originally used to make ecclesiastical garments, tablecloths and ornaments for clothing. The process involves embellishing a spider web pattern with geometrical motifs and is transmitted today by older women who offer year-long courses. Lepoglava bobbin lace is made by braiding thread wound on spindles, or bobbins; it is often used to make lace ribbons for folk costumes or is sold at village fairs. An International Lace Festival in Lepoglava celebrates the art every year. Aloe lace is made in Croatia only by Benedictine nuns in the town of Hvar. Thin, white threads are obtained from the core of fresh aloe leaves and woven into a net or other pattern on a cardboard background. The resulting pieces are a symbol of Hvar. Each variety of lace has long been created by rural women as a source of additional income and has left a permanent mark on the culture of its region. The craft both produces an important component of traditional clothes and is itself testimony to a living cultural tradition.

In 2009 UNESCO recognised lacemaking in Croatia as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Schwarzwälder kirschtorte is named for the Schwarzwald or Black Forest region in southeastern Germany, so it’s often known outside the German-speaking countries as “Black Forest Cherry Cake” or “Black Forest Gateau.”

As one of the most popular cakes in Germany, it’s interesting to note that the inspiration for the cake may have come from Switzerland instead. The kirschwasser, or cherry firewater, on which the cake is based, came from the area around the central Swiss lakes. This region is still famous for its kirsch brands Etter and Dettling. During the mid-to-late 1800s, kirschwasser began to be widely produced and used in the Black Forest region of Germany.

During the 1800s, desserts using cooked cherries, kirsch, and whipped cream or cream became a staple in the region. The first known kirschtorte appeared near Zug in Switzerland, where kirsch was distilled from the famous Zuger sour cherries.

Some folk traditions suggest that the cake is meant to resemble the traditional costume of

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Hand-tinted postcard of a young schwarzwald woman wearing the traditional bollenhut

the country girls in some parts of the Black Forest. The cake is said to represent their black or dark brown skirts, their white blouses, and their traditional hats covered with large cherry-red woolen bobbles.

The Schwarzwälder kirschtorte appears in recipes for the first time in the 1930s. Its popularity in Germany grew quickly and it’s now considered a traditional dessert.

In Germany, the baking industry works under regulations that require a kirschtorte to be made under specific guidelines. The rules define it as either “a cake made with Kirschwasser and whipped cream or with Kirschwasser and buttercream, or a combination of the two” — so without the kirsch, the cake isn’t genuine.  The presence of fruit is actually considered secondary to the presence of the kirsch, the flavor of which has to be clearly apparent. The layers — of a light Viennese cake or sponge — must contain at least 3% cocoa or chocolate (though there can be more), and the topping must be of either buttercream or whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate.

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup flour, sifted

For the syrup:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar / icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the topping:

  • 2 cups canned sour cherries, drained
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ / icing sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate

DIRECTIONS

FOR THE CAKE: Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Alternately fold chocolate and flour into the egg mixture, ending with flour. Pour the batter into 3 8-inch cake pans that have been well greased and floured. (Do not use oil to grease the pans: use butter or Crisco or a similar solid fat. If you use oil, the layers will probably stick to the pans. Also: make sure you do the greasing and flouring even if you have nonstick pans.)

Bake the layers in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes; then carefully turn out on racks and allow to cool completely.

FOR THE SYRUP: Make syrup by mixing together sugar and water and boiling for 5 minutes. When syrup has cooled, stir in kirsch. Prick the cake layers and pour syrup over all 3 layers.

FOR THE FILLING: To make the butter-cream filling, beat together sugar and butter until well blended. Add egg yolk; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in Kirsch.

CAKE ASSEMBLY: To assemble cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread with butter cream filling. Using 3/4 cup of the cherries, which have been patted dry, drop cherries evenly over cream. Place second layer on cake. Repeat. Place third layer on top. Fold 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar into the whipped cream. Cover the sides and top of the cake with whipped cream.

Decorate top of cake with remaining 1/2 cup cherries. Grated chocolate is perfectly acceptable as a topping, but if you prefer to make chocolate curls from a chocolate bar, shave them off the bar (at room temperature) with a vegetable peeler. Refrigerate the curls until ready to use. Press the chocolate curls on sides of cake; sprinkle a few on the top. Chill the cake until serving time. Afterwards, because of the cream, keep the cake in the fridge until it’s finished.

NOTE:  The cake layers are made without any leavening agent such as baking powder so the only thing that makes the layers rise in the baking is the air you’ve beaten into the batter. You therefore have to concentrate on incorporating as much air as possible during the beating process. If using a mixer, make sure to use the whisk attachment instead of the normal cake beater. If using an egg beater or hand mixer, you may need to beat the basic egg and sugar mixture for longer than ten minutes to get it light and fluffy enough.

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Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which has its name from the Austrian emperor Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who was very fond of this kind of fluffy shredded pancake. It is a popular meal or dessert in Austria, Germany,  Hungary, Slovenia, and northern Croatia.

The name Kaiserschmarren is a compound of the words Schmarren (shredded pancake) and Kaiser (emperor). Schmarren is a colloquialism used in Austrian and Bavarian to mean “trifle, mishmash, mess, nonsense and folly.” Kaiser Franz Joseph’s love for this dish was referred to humorously as his “folly.” The word “Schmarren” is related to scharren (to scrape) and schmieren (to smear). Its Slovenian name is “cesarski praženec” or “šmorn.” Its Hungarian name is “császármorzsa;” its Czech name is “trhanec” or ” kajzršmorn.”

Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) aren’t in the original recipe and just additions made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe there are only raisins (before cooking they are soaked in rum.)

HISTORY

It is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I (1830–1916). There are several stories. One apocryphal story involves the Emperor kaiserfranzjosef1853-1and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach. Obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline, the Empress Elisabeth directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her, much to the consternation and annoyance of her notoriously austere husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he finished his and even his wife’s serving.

Another story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • plum preserves or peach preserves for serving

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine raisins with rum and let soak 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Stir in the drained raisins.
  3. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook 5-6 minutes, or until the pancake has set and the bottom is golden brown.
  4. Using a spatula or two forks, tear the pancake into bite-size pieces.
  5. Drizzle in the melted butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and use a spatula to gently toss the pieces for 5 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized.
  7. Sprinkle with additional confectioners’ sugar and serve with the preserves of your choice.
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Enjoy Kaiserschmarrn for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!