On Christmas traditions in the past, the present and the future

Traditions are ever changing rather than something that is frozen time, traditions is something that grows with the tides and is based on memories we carry with us – ie it nothing eternal!

In Sweden we have an odd Christmas tradition, though I guess have started to fade, to watch the Walt Disney Christmas special at 3 o’clock in the afternoon at Christmas Eve. This year Disney has recut part of the program concerning the Disney short film Santa’s Workshop (1932, Silly Symphonies series), removing a few clips that can be interpret a racist or at least discriminatory for some viewers – I have no problem with this, in actuality I applaud it – but some have problems with this claiming all should be as it always have been.

This is if course stupidity as nothing is as it once was. A common picture of a traditional Christmas table is a whole pig with an apple in its mouth, though few if any does this anymore. Most of us in Sweden has kept part of this tradition alive though with our Christmas ham. Other changes are more local or personal, I for example wants champagne to my Christmas dinner and will complement that with some Georgian qvevri wine this year thanks to the EWBC-trip earlier this year – just because I believe it will be a match made in heaven.

Vinoterra Rkatsiteli

When looking back there are many things that have changed, though I guess there are still many that do remember or think of baby Jesus at Christmas most in Sweden don’t – at least not much, it’s all about food, family and friends. As I was thinking of this I remembered an old Swedish book; Glimpses from the private life of a Stockholm family during the 1890s (Glimtar ur Stockholmskt privatliv på 1890-talet) by Hedvig Svedenborg (1931). In this book a chapter describes a Christmas at a wealthy family in Stockholm just a few generations away.

It starts with a phrase we all heard our grandparents or such mutter; Christmas is not as it used to be.

This is about the Tamm family who lived in Stockholm in the 1890s. There are many things that actually isn’t all that different but there are also several things that have changed. One thing that I guess most do but don’t consider a tradition is to take a bath now and then. At this time though the family took a traditional Christmas bath, at the “public” bath at Malmtorgsgatan. The bath symbolized the start of the Christmas weekend for the Tamms.

pigshead

A Julbock - a Christmas goat, ca 1900, in Uppland
A Julbock – a Christmas goat, ca 1900, in Uppland

They had, just as we do, a Christmas tree with decorations, presents and sweets. From the description I would guess several of us would recognize some these as well: almonds, raisins, figs, jam, saffron cake and candied nuts. What differs is who presented the gifts, in those days Santa Clause was still in his infancy, it was the Christmas goat. He still has a place in our Swedish tradition but few know of his past glory. The Christmas goat is part of old traditions, where young people walked from farm to farm performing small acts or singing songs around Christmas. The Christmas goat was a figure that could be sinister, so you had to treat him good, if you weren’t good the Christmas goat would butt you. After a while he also began to give presents to good children and finally he got replaced by by Santa Clause during the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.

Traditions is something that changes over time, we keep some parts, add some and subtract others so that it fit our needs and wants.

This Christmas I want qvevri wine and will have it a great bottle from Vinoterra, I believe I want one for the next as well, ie an add on to my Christmas traditions🙂

Happy Christmas to all!

7 comments

  1. Fascinating post Magnus!

    The best traditions are those which evolve, subtly – after all, life doesn’t stay the same, neither should traditions. I can remember that our family Christmas, itself built around my mums memories of the best bits of her own childhood, gradually changed and morphed over the years. A homemade gingerbread house used to be one of the highlights, but then my brother and I outgrew that. So freshly baked Brioche for breakfast (yep, she was a bit of a demon cook, my mum) took its place.

    I love the idea of a Vinoterra Qvevri wine appearing on the Christmas table. For us it will be dinner, rather than lunch (unlike most of the British population), and I may well uncork the Vinoterra Cabernet that I have been jealously guarding for the last month or so!

    • Many thanks🙂 I agree that the best traditions are those which evolve, subtly, and I think they need to to become a long living tradition. We most often have a late lunch and then dinner – we Swedes tend to eat quite alot during Christmas, come to think about it we don’t do much else except for drinking in between meals🙂

  2. Magnus….

    I’ve said many times that you are one of my favorite bloggers. This piece again, shows why.

    Your dna is looking through everything through a cultural lens. One quite different from mine. One, because of your training, more historically detailed.

    Brought up Jewish, with Channukah really a non holiday, I’ve always looked into Christmas from a distance, like a diorama, like a display in Macy’s mid town.

    Thanks for this share. I with you and yours the very best holiday. I plan on closing down. Writing, working out, hitting museums at opening and wishing for a snowed in NYC.

    Enjoy my friend.

    • Many thanks for those kind words, its nice to find your niche🙂

      Your holiday sounds great – and is what I ain to do as well, besides feasting a bit, among other things I hope to get a few Georgia posts up🙂

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