Cultural rituals


I got myself a Hanuka present. Another cultural adaptation on its way: virtual reality! But that’s another post…

Not long ago, Matt and I were lighting candles for Hanuka. We were sort of helter-skelter about it. I missed a night or two to go out to supper with friends. Some nights, we gave each other presents; other nights, nothing.

Here in Stockholm, the sun sets at 3 pm, and technically, that would make for very early candle-lighting. Jews celebrate their holidays from sunset to sunset, and you are supposed to light the candles after seeing the first stars — hard to do in an urban setting, harder to do when one is also fairly lax about one’s religious practices.

But I’m not that “frum,” as they say, or serious about practicing my religious traditions in an orthodox fashion — which would actually be Orthodox Judaism. I would have to cover my head, keep kosher, go to the ritual baths while menstruating, the whole nine yards. I don’t do that here, and I didn’t do that in the US. I blend in.

But Matt is fairly lax too. We are not getting a Christmas tree — it’s just not what M and I do. We don’t have kids, so no need for presents underneath the tree. A tree is messy. They are not cheap: the nice ones for sale on Valhallavagen cost about 100 kr per foot, or 500 kr for a nice-sized bush — about $75 I think — though the local corner market has quite pretty ones for about 200 kr total ($30). A tree in the house would be quite nice, but I’d rather have a living one.

What are our rituals? Have we adopted any of the Swedish Jultid mishegas at home? (Yes, Yiddish is an official language in Sweden.) Not really. I’ve been to multiple Julmarknad (Jul markets) this year and had several glasses of glögg (mulled wine) on various occasions. We’ve been eating lussekatter och pepparkakor and going to Julbord with our respective offices.

(Digression: Julbord is a Christmas smörgåsbord, piled high with smoked fish and meats and potatos and cheeses and paired with schnaps and beer and wine, and just an overall heavy winter feast. This year we went to the Kaknastornet, which was spectacular, if only for the view, but the food was tasty too, from fried herring to beautiful poached salmon and delicious chocolate cream dessert. I even ate smoked reindeer heart — it was salty and tasty. A colleague asked me if I thought it was strange that Swedes eat reindeer, Santa’s sleigh animals, and I said, I’m Jewish. And they’re tasty. And Americans eat moose, so whatever.)

Culture changes — one’s own home culture and the culture in which one lives. Santa Lucia parades take place in offices, schools, all sorts of public, nonreligious spaces, and Swedes might go to church to sing psalms about Lucia and for the parade, but they rarely go to church otherwise.

So, maybe celebrating Jultid in the Swedish sense isn’t so hard for me, as a Jew, or for the young girl wearing a head scarf and participating in Lucia, according to photos this year in the local paper DN. Maybe someday even a boy will be able to be Lucia! (

Matt and I have joked about celebrating Festivus, the holiday Jerry made up in an episode of Seinfeld one year, long ago. (It, too, has become commercialized!) One of my family members wants to adopt Iceland’s “Christmas book flood” tradition, where people give gifts and curl up with books on New Year’s Eve. This week, we will celebrate Christmas (and the latest Star Wars movie) with his family, and next week, new years and the passing of time and new beginnings.

Happy holidays, whatever you are celebrating!


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One Response to Cultural rituals

  1. cutknife1919 says:

    I like this post! Yay! You were at Kaknastornet! And Julbord sounds like somewhere that I want to go! Smoked fish and meats and cheese and schnapps and beer and wine! That HAS to be good!

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