Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Keeping Christmas, Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land

   Written by Contributor 
Winnie Nielsen

    I have been joining Heather this past Christmas season with some reading on Scandinavian culture.  Since my husband is 100% Norwegian, I decided to read Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land  written by Kathleen Stokker.  The book was full of the historical Christmas celebration in the Old Country, and how it was changed by immigrants coming to America as they blended in with their new surroundings.

     Christmas was primarily  a religious celebration.  It was comprised of a special meal on Christmas Eve with specific prayers, the reading of Bible verses, and singing of hymns.  The meal was celebratory and followed by the opening of a few  handmade gifts.  

      The celebration included many special foods spread on the table dressed in the best tablecloth available. It was the true smorgasbord which everyone looked forward too.The family gathered round together to hear the traditional readings and sing together while savoring the bounty of special dishes reserved for the occasion.  Christmas Day was celebrated with a traditional early morning  trip to church for a special service.

     The Norwegians spent the late fall months, following the harvest, with preparing for the Christmas Eve celebration. Chores included the butchering of hogs( for the traditional roast pork dinner and special sausages), the making of plenty of candles from the tallow, the brewing of homemade beer, and  right before Christmas, a thorough cleaning of the home from top to bottom.  Right before Christmas Eve, special curtains or wall hangings were then placed, fresh straw was laid on the floor, a special tablecloth was laid on the table,  and early in the day of December 24, everyone received a hot bath and was scrubbed from head to toe.  Then,  new fresh clothes were put on for the special Christmas Eve celebrations.  Cleanliness was considered mandatory to prepare for the feast and most important celebration of the year. Early celebrations did not include a Christmas Tree. 
      Christmas trees came to Norway and to the US from immigrants of German descent.  Original celebrations were focused on the religions traditions, the special foods,  a few  homemade knitted gifts, or  sometimes  small children were given handcrafted toys made out of wood or a cloth doll for a girl.
Norwegian winter post card, SOURCE

      Christmas Day, after church, was a time  to visit with friends or receive friends at home.  Sharing coffee and special cookies and other foods were important as a way to show appreciation and thanks to neighbors and friends.

    Norwegians also had a custom called Julebukking,   which reminded  me of our Halloween traditions. The week after Christmas , people dressed up in scary costumes and went from door to door seeing if people could identify them. Those who played along invited the dressed friends inside for cookies and other treats.  Sometimes the Julebukking ended up in mischief and Americans found the tradition distasteful.  They pushed back on the immigrants with such disfavor that the tradition was dropped as fewer and fewer people participated or were unwelcomed in neighborhoods.  What was interesting to me was how superstitious the Norwegians were about Christmas. 

    Like early Halloween and Samhain celebrations, people worried about evil spirits troubling them on Christmas Eve and special efforts were taken to appease spirits who might be about the home and farm.  For Norwegians, Christmas Eve was the time when the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnest.  Julebukking was the effort to make fun of and taunt others about lurking unwanted spirits at their doors!  In addition to wandering sprits, appeasing the "Nisse" who lived on the farm, was also important. Nissen, the legendary elves, were thought to live among the farms and were responsible for ensuring that nothing bad happened to the animals or the farm.  They did, however, expected a Christmas treat in return for their services,  so a bowl of Christmas Porridge (flotegrot) was always promptly left out on Christmas Eve.

     As the tradition of the Christmas Tree grew in favor with Americans, it became part of the celebrations at churches and schools.  Norwegian children, who attended the public schools, were exposed to the growing favorite tradition.  Since schools were so central to immigrant communities, the annual school Christmas pageant, became an important holiday tradition to the families.  The pagent included  a big Christmas tree and all the children received a little gift at the end of the school program.    Lutheran churches also added  a celebration at the home of the pastor around a big Christmas Tree as part of the festivities.  By the time of World War I, Christmas trees were becoming important in the pageantry and the immigrants found that they were something worth adding to the traditions of the Old World.  The children really pushed the idea of a tree at home as well.

     The idea of Santa Claus entered the American scene in 1834 with the famous poem of The Night Before Christmas.  Again, the idea of children getting gifts that had to be bought in stores was alien to Norwegian immigrant thinking. Norwegians held fast that the primary focus of Christmas should be the Old World traditions of the  prayers, hymns, and foods of the Christmas Eve celebration.  Slowly, however, as children were more exposed to American traditions in their schools and churches, and once married moved away from the farms to cities, the acceptance and embracing of store bought gifts and Santa Claus became woven into their own family celebrations.

      World War II, brought a huge surge of patriotism in the US and immigrants joined in to embrace the efforts and wanted to be seen as patriotic in their new land.  With that came even more acceptance of the American way of life and families were less inclined to stress speaking and acting in ways that separated them from other Americans.  

   And in Europe, with the Nazi 5 year occupation of Norway, German Christmas customs of Advent Calendars and Christmas trees saturated the cultural markets resulting in more Norwegians adding those traditions to the traditional ones.

     It seems that as the immigrants melted into the melting pot of America, the Christmas traditions that were most preserved were those of serving special foods.  In the early 1970s, young people wanted to know more about their roots and selected those traditions from the Old Country that seemed best for them.  There was a resurrection of the popularity of Lutefisk, special breads and cookies, and the singing of old hymns again.  Families added these elements back into their existing American Christmas traditions to teach their children about their Norwegian heritage.  Today, immigrant communities share Lutefisk dinners, St. Lucia festivals, and bakeries full of long time favorite cookies like Pepperkakor, Sandbakkels, KrumKake, and Julebrot.

      Keeping Christmas is a fascinating read about the immigrant experience of finding a new home in America while striving to maintain the pride of their Norwegian heritage. It was not an easy transition and many immigrants moved to the unsettled prairies of Kansas , Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa to homestead. They endured many hardships of getting established and growing sustainable communities.  Christmas was the one celebration that brought everyone together in thanksgiving to celebrate their heritage. In enjoying the Old World traditions, a much needed winter respite occurred.  The sharing of familiar foods and traditions renewed their ties to one another and lifted their spirits that coming to America was worth the hard work and leap of faith that was taken to leave their beloved Norway.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dala Horse Art

I thought I'd share with you my little dala horse paintings! My plan is to make a card set out of these designs. I've had so much fun thinking up different ways of decorating the dalas, and the blue and white one was inspired by my love of blue and white dishes. I've always loved drawing and painting twisting vines, curly ques and graduating dots. I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that all of these motifs I've been doodling for years are all strong design elements in Scandinavian folk art.

I'll be sure to share here when I get the postcards made, and perhaps some prints. I think these dalas will be perfect for spring!~

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Carl and Karin Larsson, Creators of the Swedish Style

    Not long ago I ordered the book Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style through Amazon from a used book source. I was so excited to find a book about one of my favorite artists, Carl Larsson, and his wife Karin and their epic collaboration of their famous house, Lilla Hyttnas in the village of Sundborn, Sweden.

   This book is so fascinating because not only is it a book about their home-- it is a book about their life together, their creations and art, and how the making of their home and their family took on a unique role in Larsson's artwork and the image of Swedish design. For Swedes, the art of Carl Larsson in many ways depicted the ideal home life and encouraged an appreciation for warmth and family friendly rooms.

   I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I ordered the book online, but I was very happy with the heft and depth of the volume! There are hundreds of full color high quality photos and reproductions of Larsson's prints. I loved seeing photos of the actual real-life rooms set beside Larsson's illustrations of the same space. As an artist, seeing this gave me a deep appreciation of how Larsson was able to convey the essence of the room in in his watercolors, and how easily he created stories and movement with the figures he painted within them-- usually his family.

  It was also good to read more about Karin and her contributions to the vision of the home and her own artistry. When Carl and Karin met, she was also a painter. As a modern woman, mother and artist, it does make me sad to read that, once they started having children, Karin's painting came to an end.
   But looking at her home, and reading about the joy she took in designing everything from clothes to furniture to textiles, I think it's safe to assume that Karin didn't 'give up art', but found different outlets for her artistic talents, and those outlets were deeply rooted in and inspired by motherhood.

   Without a doubt, this book left me with an even deeper appreciation for this unbelievably artistic duo and their biggest work of art-- their home. I love all the detail that they put into each room-- painting on the walls, rooms filled with handmade things, and creating beautiful and inviting spaces in which they raised their children and also inspired their nation.
   Even today, the richly folk art and bright style of the Larsson home and Carl Larsson's paintings inspire decorators and home owners around the world and can be categorized as it's own unique style.
   I would definitely recommend this beautiful book to all lovers of Larsson, Swedish style and folk style in general. Especially on a dark winter's day-- whether you're in the frozen north or just the chilly suburbs, this is a warm and cozy read!


Friday, January 18, 2013

Music: First Aid Kit

Today I wanted to share with you one of my favorite singing duos-- the sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg from Sweden, known as First Aid Kit. Their close melodies and folk style are just beautiful and mesmerizing and they've been compared to another one of my favorite bands-- Fleet Foxes. In fact, it was a cover of a Fleet Foxes song posted on the internet that first gave the sisters international attention:

  And while this is an amazing cover, their original music is just as beautiful and lovely-- and it's also in English. First Aid Kit's latest album, The Lion's Roar, is a folky feast of bittersweet songs, that are shockingly mature for such a young pair, but their voices make it feel true and honest.

This is my favorite song from the album, called "Emmylou" it is remarkably 'Americana' and country sounding-- even featuring mentions of American legends 'Emmylou', 'June', 'Johnny' and 'Graham.'

I highly suggest giving them a listen and I look forward to many more future albums from these girls~

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Art: Norwegian Bride

   I thought I'd share with you all one of my latest Scandinavian paintings--- this piece is called "Norwegian Bride" and shows the traditional Norwegian wedding costume and crown in an old fashioned folk style. I'm pleased with now it turned out and went a bit crazy with the flowers, haha!

  You can read more about the piece and the tradition of Norwegian wedding crowns HERE at my art blog.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vintage Norway

    I've been looking through the flickr commons at copyright free images of Norway and came upon these vintage beauties. What a majestic country! I'd love to see the fjords some day. Take a look at these amazing photos. You should be taken to the flickr source with more info by clicking on them:

 Which scene do you wish you could step into? I can almost hear all that rushing water. And aren't the sod roofs amazing? I've read that many scandinavian homes insulated their roofs with layers of sod and turf to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They would plant gardens and even small trees on them. Now that's a great use of space!

Thanks for your visit!~

Monday, January 7, 2013

My own Dala....

I've started working on a series of Dala Horse designs-- come check it out on my art blog-- Audrey Eclectic!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Swedish Epiphany

  Happy Epiphany, dear readers! Hope you're having a wonderful Sunday. I thought I'd share with you this beautiful Swedish tapestry depicting the nativity with the three wise men by Anders Eriksson, 1802. Thanks to Aputsiaq at Nordic Thoughts for the source!

Also--- we have a winner for our book giveaway! Congrats to Nancy, for your win! And thanks so much to our author, Linda K. Hubalek for being so generous!

Til next time,

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Obsession: Scandinavian Box Beds


There is something just so interesting and a bit romantic about box beds, and Scandinavia has some of the most beautiful varieties. Built into the wall, sometimes with a curtained off entrance or even an entrance with doors, I have loved these unique style of beds since I was a kid.
    The concept behind the box bed is to preserve heat and add privacy. They often times also included storage of some sort either beneath the bed or along the wooden sides.
   In the years when most people shared sleeping space with the whole family, having a private box bed was probably very ideal. Especially in the frigid winters of northern landscapes-- I can just imagine how warm and cozy these beds must be all piled up with blankets and furs, the curtains drawn and a good book in hand.
   I've been gathering some images of some particularly beautiful box beds for that 'some day' house of my dreams. I thought I'd share them with you here-- what do you think? Are you a fan? Or would you feel claustrophobic? I just love how beautifully and ornately some of the beds are decorated. They are many times a work of art in of themselves!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gott Nytt År!

Young folk dancers from Lindsborg, Kansas at their annual Lucia Fest
Happy 2013! So glad to have you here at Scandinavian Folk. This blog is pretty new, but I hope to have it packed full of fun Scandinavian tidbits as the months go on. You can look forward to lots more book reviews, recipes, design, art and other things inspired by Sweden, Norway, Finland, and even Denmark and Iceland.
    Since I'd like for this to be a very interactive site, I also welcome guest posts if you have something you'd like to share! I'm also very interested in the immigrant aspect of Scandinavian culture-- you don't see too terribly much about that online. But America also has a very rich and vibrant Scandinavian culture and heritage, and I'd love to celebrate that as well.

   And speaking of great immigrant stories--- don't forget that a free eBook of Linda K. Hubalek's "Butter in the Well" is up for grabs in our latest giveaway! See THIS POST for more info! Contest only lasts until Jan. 5!
   Thanks again for joining me here--- we'll have a marvelous time!~
Happy New Year-