Christmas Traditions, Old and New

Some traditions are old. Some are made new and then become old. Since moving to New York, I’ve been trying to create some traditions of my own, especially those centered around the holidays. This far from the Midwest, I’m also disconnected from my Scandinavian roots. Back home we celebrated a lot of Scandinavian holidays in the community, everything from Valborgsnatt to Midsommar to Sankta Luciasdag to Tjuegondedag Knut (thank you, Swedish Society). And my mom has filled her house with just about everything Scandinavian. I blame the Carl Larsson prints she’s had for as long as I can remember for starting it all.

So out here I try to keep the traditions of home. I missed Sankta Luciasdag. Mainly because getting up at the crack of dawn to make coffee (which neither I nor my boyfriend drink) and pass out lussekatter (no saffron) in a white gown with a red sash and candles on my head is way less fun when you’ve only got one other person in your household. I have made a few efforts. I made limpa bread from a 1950s Scandinavian cookbook (decent, but super dark, dense, really orange-y, and not too sweet – nothing at all like the lightly sweet light rye I was used to). Nearly all of our tree ornaments are from IKEA, thanks to some foresight of mine at an after Christmas sale. Can’t pass up blown glass ornaments in blue and silver. Chad and I went tree hunting (and chopping and hauling) for the second year in a row, though this year our blue spruce has stubbornly refused to stand up straight. A visit back home in June for a family reunion also offered an opportunity to go to the Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival, where I picked up some adorable Scandinavian braided straw ornaments, which now grace the little fake fir we have from our teeny apartment.

I’ve also made rice pudding (though I make that rather frequently) and many a pot of Norwegian frukt suppe. My mom got the recipe from my great-grandmother. It’s totally Scandinavian farm food, as it is best served with a splash of heavy cream. It’s rich but fairly healthy, sweet but not too sweet, and an unusual dessert. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Norwegian Frukt Suppe

2 cups raisins
1 cup prunes
1 cup dried apricots
8 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup tapioca pearls
1 cinnamon stick

Soak the fruit in the water overnight. Then add the sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon stick and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tapioca pearls are translucent and soft. Serve warm or cold with a splash of heavy cream. This keeps for a long time in the fridge if stored in an airtight container like a canning jar.

I’m also going to try my hand at spritz, since this summer I picked up a cookie press at a garage sale for a dollar. A buttery cookie usually shaped into “S”s or wreaths, my grandma made these for Christmas every year, along with super-thin, crispy pepparkokkar.

I’m trying desperately to make cookies this year, but I seem to be running out of time. Too many things to do! Besides spritz I also want to make minty chocolate pretzel cookies, German honey cookies, and if I have the time and patience, I’m going to try out my antique store krumkake iron and make krumkake, another Scandinavian cookie rather like an Italian pizzelle or a Dutch wafer cookie, only rolled. I’m also going to try to make these spicy gingerbread bars (don’t leave out the black pepper) I made last winter, although I think I’ll leave out the apples this time.

Scandinavian traditions have clearly been a priority for me. Anyone else far from their place of birth and/or ethnic heritage? What traditions do you carry with you? What new traditions do you make?

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