Sunday, 14 December 2008

14 December - God Jul!

Christmas is a favorite time of year in Scandinavia. After all our modern Christmas is in part inspired by the ancient Norse Yule.

The countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden experience the darkest time of the year during the Christmas season when the nights are longest and the greater part of winter is still ahead.

'Jul' - or Yule - was celebrated long before Christianity came to Scandinavia. At that time it was an observation of the winter solstice, that from then on the days would become longer and darkness gradually recede. It was a celebration of light returning. Plants are on the windowsill and cut flowers in profusion on tables do much to dispel the gloom.

In Sweden, Christmas begins with the Saint Lucia day. The Saint Lucia ceremony takes place on December 13. Christmas Eve is known as Julafton in Swedish. After the festive Christmas Eve dinner, someone dresses up as Tomte (Christmas gnome) who is believed to live under floorboards. Find out more about Christmas Traditions in Sweden!

Did you know...?
Swedish Christmas home decorations include red tulips.

In Denmark, the mischievous Danish elf Nisse plays pranks on people during Christmastime. On Christmas Eve, many Danish families leave some rice pudding or porridge for him so that he is nice to them. Children are not allowed to see the Christmas tree until dinner time on Christmas Eve (known as Juleaften) and parents decorate it secretly with home-made baubles. Find out more about Christmas Traditions in Denmark!
Norway also has an elf called Nisse, but with the features of a goat (Julebukk in Norwegian.) The idea of Julebukk is a very old one and was probably known by the Vikings. There is a special Norwegian holiday cookie called Sand Kager. In the afternoons, children go from door to door to ask for treats and goodies. Find out more about Christmas Traditions in Norway!
When you spend Christmas in Finland, you will see that Finland shares some of its Scandinavian Christmas traditions with its neighbour Sweden - but then there are Christmas traditions in Finland that you'd never guess! Fancy a Christmas Day Finnish sauna, anyone?
Iceland has many old traditions during the Christmas season. For a start, you can expect no fewer than 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses! The origin of these 'Santas' is centuries old, and each has its own name, character and role. A special custom for Icelandic children is to put a shoe in the window from December 12 until Christmas Eve. If they have been good, one of Iceland's 'Santas' leaves a gift. If they've been bad they get a potato! Find out more about Christmas Traditions in Iceland!
Glögg is the Scandinavian form of mulled wine. Made from red wine, spices and sugar, it can also have stronger spirits such as brandy, akvavit or vodka added to it. It is served with raisins, almonds and gingerbread biscuits. Sometimes almond biscuits are served instead.

Here's a traditional recipe for Glögg, followed by one for Scandinavian almond biscuits.


1 bottle of red wine
25 g dried orange zest
25 g cinnamon sticks
20 cardamom seeds
12 cloves
200 g blanched almonds
200 g raisins
225 g brown sugar
70 ml brandy
A cheesecloth

Bring the wine close to the boil in a pot. Put the orange, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in the cheesecloth, tie it into a bundle and boil it in pot for 15 minutes. Add the almonds and raisins, and cook for another 15 minutes, before removing the pan from the heat. Add the brown sugar and brandy, and stir them in. Then remove spice bundle. Serve hot.

Scandinavian almond biscuits

125 g butter
1 cup (220 g) white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond essence
1¾ cups (220 g) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (60 g) slivered almonds
2 tablespoons (40 ml) milk
for the icing
1 cup (155 g) icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond essence
1/4 cup (65 ml) milk

Preheat the oven to 165 degrees C. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add egg and almond essence; mix until fluffy. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt; mix well. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and roll each one into a log about 30cm long. Place 2 logs per cookie sheet 10-13cm apart. Flatten each roll by hand until it is about 3 inches wide. Brush flattened roll with milk and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Bake in preheated oven 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. While the cookies are still warm, cut them crosswise at a diagonal, into slices about 2cm wide. When cool, drizzle with almond icing if you like.

To make the almond icing, in a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, almond essence, and milk until smooth. Drizzle over the cookies.

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