Tag archives for Christmas

Baking “Safron Cats”



Making the lussekatter “cat” shapes…


When I was in Uppsala last weekend, we baked “Lussekatter” (literally “safron cats”) which are sweet buns flavored with saffron and decorated with raisins. They are made in other countries beside Sweden but can have other ingredients, such as cinnamon, in them. In Sweden they are traditionally eaten during Advent, and especially on Santa Lucia Day which is December 13 every year.


Letting the dough rise before baking…


They’re called “saffron cats” because of the most popular “S” shapes (but there are other shapes) is supposed to look like a sleeping cat, with the raisins as eyes. But I can’t quite see the cat myself!


Ready for the oven…


My friend, Helen, who’s been making these for decades whips them out incredibly quickly and it was all I could do to grab some photos. They looked delicious! (I can’t eat gluten and we didn’t have time to bake gluten-free this time but I had some delicious ones bought at a store.)

Here is Gretchen’s Cookbook’s  recipe and ingredients:

1 stick butter (8 Tbsp.)

1 1/3 c. milk

pinch saffron

3 Tbsp. yeast

2/3 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 eggs (1 in dough, 1 to brush)

4 c. flour

raisins for garnish

And here is the whole recipe. Why not try making a batch this Christmas?


Baking in the oven…Yum!


Scouting Fair in Uppsala

arriving at the fair

Neighbors arriving at the Scouting Fair in Uppsala


Clothing is Key
Today I attended a (mostly) outdoor Scouting Fair in Uppsala. It was the coldest day in a series of cold days. The temperature hovered around 10 degree Fahrenheit. It’s days like these that one truly understands why there is a Swedish saying “No bad weather, only bad clothing.” (Inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder.) I had on my warmest and longest down jacket. A few weeks ago when I complained about constant swings between feeling too hot and feeling too cold, I could not wear this jacket because it was too warm. There’s something wrong with my jacket (for the record, a deep eggplant color, not the typical Swedish black jacket) because it squeezes out feathers all over my indoor clothing and I have to use one of those roller things when I take it off. But it’s so worth it when it’s this cold. Anyway, I had that on, two shirts, a fleece “neck warmer (a tube that you wear around your neck and can pull up over your mouth and nose if needed-like a scarf but better). I did draw it up over my face today because my nose was so cold! I had my warmest boots on and two pairs of socks so my feet were warm. I also had long underwear pants and a hat.

The recent snowfall was the driest snow I’ve ever seen. It almost looked like fake snow used in a store window holiday scene because it was so fluffy. The sound of my boots was unusually loud on the snow.


Marzipan treats for sale…


Scouting Fair
These Swedes are so tough that they will hold and outdoor fair in 10 degrees and lots of people will come! This particular neighborhood scouting fair was a fundraiser for the scouts. They sold used articles people had donated; Christmas trees; baked goods; marzipan, hotdogs, etc. Kids took horseback rides.


One of the numerous lotteries…Just buy a ticket and they might choose your number…


There were also a number of different lotteries. You could pay for a number and then watch while a wheel was spun, hoping it would stop on your number. There was a “bingo-style” lottery where a number was selected at random from a rotating miniature barrel. There was a lot of gingerbread hearts with numbers and you could pick one. If there was a mark on the back, you won a prize (often more gingerbread). You also got to take along the number heart you picked.

Homemade treats for sale...

Homemade treats and crafts for sale…


Waiting to see who won...

Waiting to see who will win…



It takes lots of clothing, bundling up, and special stroller gear when you bring small children out in extreme weather…


Part of the fair was inside a church building (though this building was only borrowed, the Swedish Scouts consciously removed any link to the church (in their verbal oaths, songs, etc.) a few years ago. I was relieved to get into the warm, wood paneled interior.


Buy a ticket and pick a number gingerbread heart…if it has a mark on the back, you win a prize…


In the largest room, they had a “fiskdamm”  (“fish pond”) which you see at just about any child event. This involves the child holding onto a makeshift fishing pole. With guidance, the fishing line goes over a screen and someone on the other side ties a prize to the line. Then the line is hauled back over the side to the waiting child. It’s normally for the “ten and under” crowd.


The “fishpond” where the child “fishes” and hauls back his or her prize from the curtain…



Wanna buy a hot dog? (The marshmellows are unusual and an imported treat!)


A scout band played. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a tuba and a guitar playing together! They take whomever they can get, of course. After the band played, a teenage girl got up and sang “Blue Christmas” with a piano accompanist and then a 12-year old magician performed some card tricks.


The scout band…a piano player, a drummer, 2 guitarists…and the brass section, including a tuba…


The whole fair was, well, adorable. What could feel more festive around Christmastime than neighbors greeting each other at a fair, enjoying hot coffee on a cold day, the thrill of winning a prize…

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Kulturhuset i Stockholm, Jul i fontŠnen.

Sergeltoget is decorated for Christmas The seasonal decorations surround a lighted, glass sculpture by Edvin Öhrström. Photo by: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se


We’ve had a ton of snow and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Swedish Christmas celebrations and decorations have a flavor all their own and it doesn’t feel like it’s just like Christmas in any other equivalent country. Sure there are customs adopted from other lands but the result is a uniquely Swedish–feeling holiday celebration.

By the time that Advent starts, Sweden is experiencing very little daylight and everyone looks forward to the coming of Christmas lights, snow, celebrations—anything to make it seem lighter. People remind each other that the Winter Solstice is not that far off and then the days will start getting longer again. On the first Sunday of advent (the four weeks before Christmas), many people light the first of four special candles—one for each week of Advent. Each week, another candle is lit.

Simple Advent candles

Simple Advent candles, marking the 4 weeks of Advent.


On the 13th of December, Sweden celebrates Lucia, one of the few saint days observed. There’s been plenty posts about this day (use the Search field above), so I won’t give you the history. The short version is that girls wear white robes with a head wreath with lights (not usually candles any more—ouch!) Boys wear white robes as well and have a pointed hat. They’re called Star Boys. Some boys dress up as gingerbread boys or as elves. Nearly everyone carries a battery-operated or a real candle. Only one girl gets to be Lucia herself and she leads the procession in the school auditorium or elderly home or wherever the procession takes place. Then there’s the singing that accompanies nearly any Swedish gathering.

Like Midsummer, the Lucia celebration remembers the agrarian life of Sweden’s recent past and the contrast between light and dark, warmth and cold.

Lucia means it’s time to eat again. Lucia buns, made with saffron, are called “lussekatter” (saffron cats) because they look like curled up cats with raisin eyes. They are eaten with glögg or coffee. There’s always lots of gingerbread cookies made and enjoyed as well.


Christmas & New Year’s (more to come as we get closer)
Christmas presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve with a feast the next day on Christmas. But I’ll write more about that as it gets closer. Christmas is actually drawn out over several days and a lot of people take off the week after New Year’s as well.



Hanging Advent stars in windows is very popular. The star is a paper star with electric lighting that is hung up on the first Sunday in Advent as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Sometime the stars are on a little stand instead of suspended. The stars are typically red, yellow, or white but I’ve seen other colors as well.

jul star

An Advent star in a window where I work. Note all the snow on the outdoor table!


Here’s another Advent star…


Fošnster, julstjarna, Stockholm

Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se


Christmas Tree
Every family decorates its tree differently but strings of lights, tinsel, paper garlands, and small Swedish flags are common. Many people also decorate their tree with straw figures. Many of my Swedish friends wait till Christmas Eve to put up their tree and it stays there through much of January. Some families make sure to put out a special hanging seed arrangement for wild birds at Christmas time.


Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se


Christmas Goat (Julbock)
The Christmas goat is one of the very oldest Christmas symbols in Sweden and is often placed near the Christmas tree. Why a goat? Is Kristin pulling our leg? No, I swear ther eis a Christmas goat! The explanation is complicated. You can read more here.

julbock with  flowers

Here’s a Christmas goat (Julbock) set out with some cheerful Christmas plants at my workplace. Isn’t it nice that someone decorates the office?


Angel Tree
I’ve always loved Swedish Angel Trees and I grew up loving them without ever knowing they were Swedish. They used to only have angels that went round and round powered by the heat from the candles. Nowadays you can find them with little mooses and other shapes.


A candle-powered Angel Tree. The angels rotate when the candles burn hot enough.


Lighted Arches
Lighted arches are also common. Sometimes they have candles, sometime lightbulbs. Here’s one from my office…


Lighted arch


Miniature Figures
It’s common to see all sorts of Christmas elves and trolls in store windows and decorating people’s homes. The penguin is not so common but I couldn’t help taking this photo of one.



“Jultomten” or Christmas trolls…



There are penguins all over the streets of Sweden…not!


Stay tuned for more on Swedish Christmas!

Santa of the Year


Photo by: Minna Ridderstolpe/imagebank.sweden.se


Well, another Santa Winter Games has come and gone. This year’s competition, held every year in Gällivare, Sweden was held the weekend of November 17.

According to GellivareLapland.se , Gällivare is situated 100 kilometers north of the polar circle. They enjoy the Northern Lights in winter and midnight sun in the summer. Gällivare and the local small villages around it boast approximately 20, 000 citizens. They have apparently spent a lot of time measuring out things and the website says, “We have 15,825 square kilometers to move around on.”

Santas from all over the planet meet in Gällivare to vie for the title “Santa of the year”. The Santas spend the weekend doing tasks such as collecting wish lists, playing with kids, radiating Christmas spirit, and preparing for the heavy work of delivering all those presents in just one night. Read more » >>

St. Knut’s Day (Tjugondag Knut): The most confusing and least-appreciated Swedish holiday ever

Last Friday was Friday the 13th, and with the exception of an extremely unlucky Italian cruise ship, the day passed like many others. Work, grocery shopping, På Spåret, and then sleep, heavenly sleep.

The special thing about last Friday, January 13, passed almost completely unnoticed, even in this country that loves holidays. There were no themed pastries, no advertising campaigns, no trivia quizzes in the free newspaper you get on the train. It’s like the whole country was totally unaware of the significance of this holy day, Tjugondag Knut, the official end of the Christmas season.

Tjugondag Knut translates into “20th Day Knut,” which refers to the 20th day after Christmas Eve. This used to be the day when Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians would ransack the tree of the candy and cookies it had been adorned with before Christmas and then kick it to the curb, so to speak. Now it seems to be widely forgotten, and if you ask me, it’s kind of a pity, because St. Knut’s Day is one strange but awesome holiday.

Sadly, there was no plundering our Christmas tree this year because by the time Tjugondag Knut came around, it was dry as a match and dead as a doornail. We threw it out the window and all the needles fell off. Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

Read more » >>