A Very Swenglish Christmas
My turn again, and this time I want to tell you about our Swedish Christmas breakfast. You know all about my Swedish connections, I think. I lived and worked there for several years in the 1970s and then I commuted between here and Sweden more or less monthly for about 15 years during the eighties and early nineties. I’ve worked in many other countries, too: a couple of years in China and lots of short contracts in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and some western European countries (such as Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland), too. I worked in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) last summer, and have spent short periods in numerous other countries. But Sweden long ago became my spiritual home. I don’t really know why I don’t live there now.
Our Swedish Christmas breakfast table. We even put a little string of Swedish flags on the Christmas tree, just as they do in Sweden.
This year I didn’t even manage to get there for a short holiday. Maybe that’s why I decided to invite lots of friends to a Swedish Christmas breakfast party. My partner and I went shopping for authentic Swedish food, which is very easy to find in London because there is a rather large ex-pat community of Swedes here and there are Swedish food shops and restaurants, mostly in the Marylebone area of central London.
We bought crispbreads and rusks and rye bread; herring in different sauces, Swedish cheeses, ham, meatballs and pickles. We bought sweet cinnamon buns which had been home-baked by a Swede, here in London. We made open sandwiches with cheese and sweet peppers, and others with prawns, boiled egg and mayonnaise with dill. We stuffed dates with marzipan and we put out a large plate of gravad lax with mustard and dill sauce. There were fresh bread rolls, butter, marmalade and spiced Christmas jam. We made tea and several pots of strong coffee, and we made a pan of glögg – spiced red wine, served hot. And, of course, we decorated my partner’s house with Swedish and British Christmas decorations, and outside we put six large flares on the garden path up to the house. It looked very Swedish and very Christmassy.
Authentic Swedish food including crispbreads, rusks, cinnamon buns, herring, cured salmon and open sandwiches with Swedish cheeses, meatballs and pickles.
We had about forty guests but because it was early (we started at eight o’clock in the morning – well, it was breakfast!) and because my partner’s house is rather small we asked people to arrive at different times. So from eight till about ten we had a houseful of friends, coming and going, meeting each other – some for the first time – enjoying a Swedish breakfast and talking about Christmas, the year that’s just passed and the awful weather we’ve been having recently. It was especially good for me to have Lucy there, being hospitable and sociable and lovely as always.
It seems to have been a great success and it certainly made it feel like Christmas. It was dark and cold outside. We even had a little snow. We’d played Swedish Christmas music, we’d burned orange-and-clove-scented candles and my partner’s Christmas tree looked splendid sitting in the corner of the room with her presents piled up underneath it. After the last guest had left I crashed out. “I’m so tired,” I mumbled as I sat on the sofa and fell asleep – and it was only half past ten in the morning!
That evening, a good friend took me to see Ray Davies in concert at The Apollo. If you loved the sixties – and I was a teenager in the sixties – then you’ll probably have loved the music of The Kinks, Ray Davies’s band. He’s still performing like a teenager himself even though he must be in his mid-sixties now. A great evening. And we had another great evening on Tuesday when I took Lucy to The Roundhouse – another wonderful London venue – to see La Clique, a kind of cabaret-cum-circus-cum-variety show (but definitely not for children!). I haven’t had so much fun since…well, since last Christmas, actually. But it’s hard work enjoying yourself all the time. I had to have a sleep in the middle of the afternoon yesterday so that I would be awake for our neighbours’ Christmas drinks’ party that evening!
No sleeping now because Lu and I are off to the theatre. We’ve got matinee tickets for The Misanthrope, staring Keira Knightley. It’s freezing outside but we’ll wrap up in thick coats and scarves and gloves and it’ll be just like when Lucy was a small girl, going off to the pantomime for a special Christmas treat. Later, we’ll have roast chestnuts in the street, stop for a while to sing Christmas carols in Covent Garden or Trafalgar Square, and then we’ll head home for drinks with friends before sitting down just before midnight to open our Christmas presents – something we have done – just the two of us – each year since Lucy’s mum died.
It’s traditional in Britain to open Christmas presents on Christmas Day (25th December) so we always keep our Christmas stockings unopened until then.
So, we’ll get up tomorrow morning, make a Buck’s Fizz and have a small plate of gravad lax. We’ll open our Christmas stockings and have fun with the contents (balloons, jokes, party blowers, chocolate coins, tangerines, nuts and small, silly presents), and then I’ll have to get into the kitchen and start cooking the turkey and the stuffings and the vegetables…it’s exhausting me just thinking about it. It’ll be great fun, though, and the more champagne I drink the easier it will all get!
And I hope you all have great fun, too, wherever you are and however you celebrate Christmas. And to those of you who don’t celebrate Christmas, Lu and I wish you, too, all the very best of the season and for the coming year.
HAVE A PEACEFUL, LOVING AND HEART-WARMING CHRISTMAS!
Some useful words and expressions
travelled between my home and my place of work
more or less
my spiritual home
the place where I feel most comfortable; the place where I feel I belong
‘Ex-pat’ is short for expatriate. An expatriate is someone who lives in a country which is not their own.
kinds of savoury (non-sweet) biscuit
hard, dry biscuits
dark brown bread made with rye flour (rye is a type of cereal grass which is grown in cold countries and is used for animal feed, to make bread, and in distilling certain kinds of whisky)
a long, silver-coloured saltwater fish
vegetables or fruit which have been kept in vinegar or salt water for a long time to give them a strong, sharp taste
a spice used for flavouring sweet food and curries
red wine which has been flavoured with spices and served hot
large candles for burning outdoors
perfumed (scented) with oranges and cloves (small, dried flower buds used as a spice)
fell asleep involuntarily
place where an event (performance, for example) takes place
You put - cum - between two words to form a compound noun referring to something or someone that is partly one thing and partly another.
afternoon performance of a film or play
nuts from the chestnut tree, which are roasted and eaten in the winter and especially at Christmas
socks or sock-shaped pockets which are traditionally filled with small, inexpensive presents at Christmas
champagne and orange juice
rolled-up tubes of paper with a mouthpiece which you blow into to unroll the tube and make a loud noise, at parties (or if you’re really unlucky at four o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day when your children can’t wait a moment longer to find out what presents Santa Claus has brought them: a good way to waken sleepy parents, then!)
small, sweet oranges
Guiseppina (Italy), what a nice story, and so well told (well done!). Anita (Slovakia), very clever – you found the Beatles’ title in my second blog (answers on 28 December). Have you spotted the Beatles’ title in this blog? And Kristin (China), what a lovely little life story. Thank you so much. I enjoyed all your comments and I really do appreciate it when you post them.
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