A Swedish Christmas, on Christmas Eve

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Johannes' House

Flag of Sweden  , Skåne,
Friday, December 24, 2010

So day three and four were not as efficient as the first day. I really should have gone to see more of the Museums, but I opted to relax and just enjoy the city and being there.  Plus I could tell that I was starting to get a cold, so I could feel my energy decreasing and I just wasn't at my peak.  It was likely due to a combination of travel fatigue, lack of sleep and of course the biting cold that I could not escape.  But I was determined to see the Anne Frank museum.  So I had to save the other big art museum and sex museum for the next trip.  Which I promise myself will happen someday.  I love this city too much to not make an eventual return trip.

The Anne Frank museum is a bit difficult to find.  If it were not for the line in front of the building one could easily pass right by it and not know it was there.  Which seems appropriate, considering why it is famous in the first place, in that its purpose at that time was to enable its inhabitants to live un-noticed.  I walked the rooms one by one, reading the signs and watching various interviews about the Franks and some of those who helped hide them and one of Anne Frank’s father which was nearly impossible to watch without shedding a tear.  I got to see the actual bookshelf that hid the doorway, it is still there.  In Anne’s room the various photos and clippings that she had stuck to her wall have been preserved.  Her father had cut the wallpaper from the wall, along with all the photos and such that she had taped to it, when he heard the building was to be torn down.  When later it was turned into a museum he returned the wallpaper for the exhibit.  It was really moving to see the small quarters in which these 8 people lived for 2 years and how they had made it into a home.  In each room there were various quotes from Anne’s diary which helped describe the room as it had been and what it was like to live there.  At the end of the tour were many writings of Anne’s, copies of the book translated into dozens of different languages, I was told that it is the second most translated and second most read book in the world besides the Bible.  Then in the middle of the room in a glass case was Anne Frank’s actual diary.  Somehow seeing the diary was just so moving, after seeing everything and watching a video of Anne’s father talk about her, it was just the perfect last touch.  I can’t imagine anyone visiting this museum and leaving un-touched.  Because just before seeing the diary, in the previous room they had a display for each of the members of the hidden household telling what happened to them after they were all taken away from the house by the Nazis.  Going down the line reading how each one of them died, one after the other and seeing that some of them died just days before the liberation by the allies, was heart wrenching.  They had come so close, and yet only Anne’s father survived.  And the person who betrayed them and reported them to the Nazis was never discovered.  The brutality of all of this was really sent home when you then saw the famous diary in person, the diary of an innocent little girl, who despite all of what she was going through remained surprisingly optimistic and hopeful and yet whose life along with so many others was cut so tragically short.

I left the next day for Sweden to spend Christmas with my Lil Bro.  The trip was relatively un-eventful until I got to the airport in Copenhagen.  After I was finally able to get a ticket for the train to Malmo, after some difficulty, by the time I got down to the station the last on time train had just left and the snow storm had delayed the next train for 45 minutes.  This would have been a relatively minor in-convenience except that Johannes my  Lil Bro was waiting for me at the Malmo station and had no way of knowing which train I was on or when I was going to arrive.  I had no way to contact him at this point.  I had called him after landing to tell him I was there and we were to meet at the Malmo station.  I could not figure out how to use the pay phones but the nice lady at the information desk was kind enough to help me and let me use her desk phone for free.  On top of that it was a semi outdoors station and even the light breeze was chilling and the snowflakes felt like small sharp razor blades.  They fluttered down from the useless roof like tiny glittering diamonds but stung the face if you were foolish enough to look up.  I huddled near a bench with my luggage.  I was exhausted from my cold and traveling but it was warmer to stand.  I couldn’t understand what the announcements were saying over the speakers and no one around me could explain what was going on.  Finally a train arrived and everyone who had accumulated to go in the direction of Malmo rushed to get on.  It was a madhouse of shoving, pushing and yelling.  I had never seen anything like it.  The train was literally stuffed full, and the people outside just kept pushing, it was insane.  I had no idea what was going on, but it was somewhat amusing to see several of the people on the train screaming in what I can only assume was Danish at the people trying to shove their way on board.  Then for some reason there was a kind of rumor being passed that this was not the right train.  "It is not going to Malmo" I was told, I quickly got off the train not wanting to be sent in the wrong direction, but then when I asked the conductor who had stuck his head out the side window I was told that it was in fact going to Malmo.  I rushed to squeeze myself and my luggage back on board just in time.

Finally I arrived in Malmo very tired and cold, even with my fluffy and warm big Russian type hat, which I had to buy in Amsterdam when I lost my woolen Rasta hat.  But luckily Johannes was waiting for me at the top of the escalator, a very welcome site.

We walked out to the car where his sister and her boyfriend were waiting for us.  They drove us back to Höör where his parents live.  The next several days were all about Christmas; Preparing for it, shopping, cooking and more relatives arriving all the time.  By the time everyone was there, it kind of reminded me of Christmas with my family.  It was Johannes, his parents, his aunt, his sister and her boyfriend and his brother along with his two sons and ex-wife.  So including me there were 11 of us there, so it was barely organized chaos.  But it was nice to be amongst such loving welcoming people for Christmas.  They treated me like a member of the family, which made it much easier to be away for my first Christmas away from home.  I still missed all of the quirky traditions of my own family and our own version of barely organized chaos, but it was fun and interesting to see a regular family Christmas in an entirely different culture.

I was put in charge of making the meatballs.  I was a little nervous, since I’d never made them before, and I imagined them to be a somewhat important part of the meal, since I know Swedish Meatballs are so famous.  But they were relatively simple and weren’t nearly as important as I had imagined.  While they did turn out quite nice, if I do say so myself, they were hardly the focus of the meal.  The main focus was on the 12 or 13 other dishes, all fish, which were quite interesting.  Basically it was herring prepared in every way imaginable.  Everyone had to try some of each dish, whether they liked that particular one or not.  The people sitting nearest to me would always tell me, “ooh I like this one” or “I hate this one, so I’ll only have a little bit”.  I was the most nervous about trying the smoked eel, but it turned out to be quite good as well.  Throughout the meal they would pause every 7 minutes or so to sing a new song.  They were pleasantly surprised to see that I knew most of the songs.  While I didn’t know any of the words, other than a few from the easy parts of some songs, I knew the melodies and was able to sing along as best I could.  At the end of each song everyone yelled scull and downed their schnapps.  They had several very good varieties including one that they had spiced themselves.  It was a lot of fun; I only wish I had recovered from my cold by then.  It would have made it much easier to enjoy the festivities completely.

Just before we started dinner, everyone gathered around the TV to watch a Disney hour long special, mostly featuring Donald Duck.  It is a collection of old Disney cartoons and clips from older animated feature films.  It is exactly the same every year and has been for as long as anyone can remember and everyone in Sweden watches it every year.  The only thing that changes is the last 15 minutes which change every year to some clips from some of the newer Disney films.  This year they featured “Cars” and “Tangled”.

Just before dessert there was a knock at the back door.  I had been wondering when he would arrive but I was caught by surprise when the Jul Tompte finally arrived.  It was actually a girl from the family who lived next door, that Johannes’ family had asked to do them a favor and play Santa earlier that day.

The night before, and before the arrival of the children, we had all wrapped our presents for each other and stamped them with wax and with a Swedish Kroner.  It was this particular family’s Christmas Eve tradition.  Afterwards we put them all in a big sac to be hidden from the children and given to deliver to whoever would play the Jul Tompte.  Usually he was played by a family member, often I’m told by Johannes, but as the boys were getting older they would recognize a family member so this year they recruited their neighbors.  They suggested me, but as I speak no Swedish I’m certain it would not have gone well.

So as the boys shrieked with joy as they received their many presents from the sac and the rest of us adults received our presents from the Jul Tompte as well, we all began to open our presents.  It was a bit strange for me, this kind of chaos.  Everyone opening their presents all at once as the Jul Tompte is still handing out still more presents, and then handed a new sac from under the stairs with all the presents that could not fit in the first sac.  It was fairly chaotic for a good little while then the Jul Tompte finally finished and left again out the back door.  I received a few gifts that Johannes and his parents were kind enough to give me for Christmas.  Among them were a traditional Swedish Christmas cake and some Swedish lottery tickets, which Johannes received some as well.  He and his sister explained how to play since the instructions were in Swedish.  They were of the scratcher variety; I won enough to get a few more tickets.  Several other member of the family had received them as well.  It seemed to be a Swedish thing, which they were all into.  The previous night we had all chipped in a couple dollars to bet on the horse races, we actually did very well but didn’t win enough races.

After the chaos of the presents we all drank some more glug and watched some more traditional TV shows which are also played every year at the same time.  Everything seems very ritualized here, even the TV shows don’t change year to year.  We watched another cartoon movie about a young boy who steals a bunch of Christmas packages from rich people and gives them out to poorer families.  It had very strong socialist themes.  As we watched we munched on homemade chocolates and candies, another Swedish tradition.  Many of them were quite good, although I avoided some of the stranger looking ones Johannes warned me had been made by his young nephews.  But the toffees made by his brother were excellent.

At one point suddenly the young nephews insisted that we all dance.  Traditionally in Sweden everyone would hold hands and sing and dance in a circle around the Christmas tree.  But since the tree was in a corner we danced in a long line weaving through the various rooms in the house.  It was actually a lot of fun.  Finally the long day was over and we all wandered off to bed.   Johannes and I talked for a while longer but eventually went to bed as well.  Technically all of this was Christmas eve, since they celebrate their Christmas on the 24th.  So I guess that’s one of the reasons why Santa is able to visit the whole world in one night.  We have been kind enough to spread out the dates upon which he is expected to arrive.  In many parts of Europe as I would discover later he doesn’t come until the 6th of January.

Overall it was a very fun and Merry Christmas.  But I can’t wait for it to come around again next year when I can get back to all the chaos and quirks and weird Christmas traditions of my own family.  I hope everyone back at home had just as Merry a Christmas as I.  Even though it’s late, I wish you all a God Jul.  (Pronounced: Good Yule, Swedish for Merry Christmas)
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