Edit: I’ve imported this into my new personal blog from a backup, and the backup wasn’t the newest version, so please excuse me if you left a comment on this post and it isn’t here.
Hi everyone! It’s Friday, we’re getting closer to Christmas, and I’ve decided to join a fun challenge that the lovely Aussie blogger Debbie is doing today. It’s all about the festive season and traditions. I’ve always loved Christmas, it’s such a cosy time of the year. Sadly, when I worked as a nurse I fell out of love with it because it was such an appointment never knowing if I would have to work or not, and even if I had to work only one of the days, I still wouldn’t have enough days off to go and see my family, since I lived quite far away from them. Everything about Christmas became stressful and sad because I wasn’t able to celebrate Christmas as I wanted to, and after a while, I stopped caring about it.
Now I’ve left nursing behind, started creating a new, more flexible, career and I’m doing my best to find joy in Christmas again. The first year we lived in Ireland, we decided to stay here for Christmas. Sweden is lovely but definitely NOT in the winter if you are like me, and we prefer to visit in the summer or autumn. We also wanted to start creating our own Christmas traditions. It became a strange, but still very nice and relaxing Christmas. Shortly after, the pandemic came and we haven’t been able to see our families since. But we’re thankful for technology that allows us to at least see them through a screen! We’ve had chats over coffee and also whisky tastings over the internet. I would LOVE to see our families asap, but I’m in love with Zoom, Signal and whatnot for the possibilities it gives us to stay connected.
So how did our own Christmas traditions turn out? Continue reading to learn everything about it.
Christmas Tree – do you have one, when does it go up, who decorates it, is there a theme or is it mismatched?
Most years, we’ve had at least a small tree. When we didn’t, we decorated our guitar stand (one for multiple guitars) with lights and Christmas tree decorations. I wish I had a photo to share!
The first year in Ireland we bought a small tree at Supervalu. Last year we didn’t have one but this year I really wanted a tree, so now we actually have two! We normally get it closer to Christmas but decided to set it up early because it brings some extra cosiness to the house. Our tree decor is quite minimalistic – only lights and those red bubbles (are they called that in English??).
Christmas carols – yes or no, faves? Traditional or modern?
Oh yes, please! I LOVE Christmas songs. For a long time, it was mainly hymns and other Christian Christmas songs, but later when technology allowed us to discover more music than what you could find locally on CD, I started exploring the world of country and bluegrass Christmas recordings and I have lots of favourites there!
There is a problem though. You all know that we love bluegrass, and there are so many wonderful Christmas-themed bluegrass songs. But many have the “Christmas time back home” theme, and they make me extremely sad during this time when it’s so uncertain when we can get “home” for Christmas again. I want Christmas to be a happy time despite circumstances, so I now focus on the songs that truly make me happy and cheerful. Most of these are from the world of country music. Some of my favourite Christmas recordings – hymns and not – are those by Martina McBride, Patty Loveless and Suzy Bogguss.
Here are my top favourites – the first one is, in my opinion, the best Christmas song ever written, and performed by one of the best voices in existence.
When I listen to these, I feel the scent of Christmas ginger biscuits! I keep these records running on a playlist every time I bake them.
The last one is a song that I previously never considered a Christmas song. It was recorded in December 1987, and quickly became regarded as “the sound of Christmas” here in Ireland. My husband introduced me to it, and after hearing it for years during the Christmas period, now it gives me Christmas feelings very strongly too (in fact, I’m getting VERY emotional when I listen to it now). There’s a lot of controversy around this song because of the language used in it – you can read more about it here. But ignore the choice of language for a bit and listen to it – it’s a lovely song and it’s special, although I wouldn’t say Shane McGowan from the Pogues is my favourite singer.
Christmas books – any faves you want to tell us about?
I have absolutely no tradition of reading particular books over Christmas – except those people gave me as Christmas gifts. Maybe the closest I get is everything by Camilla Läckberg because my mother used to give me her latest book every Christmas.
Christmas movies – any you watch year after year?
We love Christmas movies! The cheesier, the better! We usually start seeing them after the first Sunday of Advent, and explore what they offer on Netflix. On the 23rd, we watch “Nightmare before Christmas” by Tim Burton, not particularly cheerful but it’s fascinating and gives the Christmas feeling. One tradition we’ve had since we moved here, is to see those “big” movie series over Christmas and New Year. So very likely, this year again we’ll see the whole Star Wars series, Harry Potter and similar, as well as certain fantasy movies such as Neverending story.
Christmas cake – yes or no?
We try to embrace what Irish Christmas traditions have to offer, although we have lots to learn. Christmas cake isn’t a big thing for us, but we love mince pies! However, if you shop at Supervalu around Christmas, they give you a Christmas cake for free. Isn’t that lovely? Sadly I can’t eat it since I’m coeliac, so my husband still had Christmas cake left in the freezer in the summer. 😂 Mince pies are a must, and we’ve also tried Christmas pudding, which is lovely when served as it’s supposed to, hot with cream and possibly brandy sauce (in our case, whisky sauce perhaps). It’s VERY rich though and you can only eat very little of it, so this year we’ll try to find a small bit of gluten-free Christmas pudding so that we can share it.
Chocolate – nuts or fruit?
Absolutely with nuts! But we usually buy a box of Cadbury Roses chocolates, if we get chocolate at all. We mostly make our own Christmas sweets, and this year I plan to make some nice fudge.
The first year we sort of tested the waters when it comes to developing our own Christmas traditions. We had a really good time! Swedish people celebrate Christmas mainly on Christmas Eve, so we started preparing on the 23rd, making the knäck (a special toffee), ham, meatballs and more. In 2019 we didn’t yet have an oven – so we made the Christmas ham in the barbecue, and I also made a gluten-free ginger spongecake in it! I’m still fascinated by how well that worked.
We had Christmas lunch with some typical Swedish foods, enjoyed some glögg, played tunes, and later went to town to join the Christmas music session in the pub. Such happy days when you could do things like that! We took a walk in town afterwards and had a drink at DeBarra’s.
Last year obviously was different but we had a good Christmas. We were more used to not being with our families over Christmas, so it wasn’t that strange anymore. The cooking and preparing were the same but with an oven this time. While we waited for the food to be ready, had the fire on in the kitchen stove and played some tunes. Whether pubs can be open or not – we will still play music! We had a chat with my family in Sweden using Facebook Messenger with video, and later also with my husband’s family.
After dinner, we sat down to enjoy a rather premium whiskey, a 25-year-old Bushmills that was released earlier that year as a part of their Causeway collection series. I had bought a bottle of the 12-year-old that was released at the same time, but the price of the 25-year-old was… let’s just say, nothing like what I’m ready to spend on a whiskey (and my bar is quite high compared to most people, so imagine!). But I had been able to get a sample set so that we could at least taste it. The funny thing is that I didn’t even like it!
2020 was a very strange year and we needed some light-hearted and nice movies to see and decided on the classic Swedish comedy film series Sällskapsresan. An absolutely fabulous choice!
I think that our own tradition is quite established. Cooking together, making sweets, having a lovely Christmas dinner, playing music, having a drop of a special whiskey and watching films. This is the pandemic-style Christmas. I’d love to include more social activities in our Christmas celebrations in the future!
What’s on the table?
We love our Swedish Christmas food, and even if we’ve planned to make turkey à la Irish traditions on Christmas day, it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this year, if we’re clever enough to not make too much of the other dishes.
We don’t have a huge Christmas buffet but make our favourites – a special Christmas ham baked in the oven with (gluten-free) breadcrumbs and mustard (this is the only way I can eat mustard), meatballs with allspice, Janssons frestelse which is a sort of potato gratin with anchovies and cream, and this year I’ll try to add something nice with fresh vegetables. Julmust is a special soft drink that has a secret recipe (or so they say), it’s based on malt extract and is very sweet. I don’t know how I could explain it to someone who hasn’t tasted it! But it is a part of most Swedish people’s Christmas dinners. I can’t handle too sweet drinks anymore, and nowadays I prefer red wine or a gluten-free ale from 9 White Deer brewery near Macroom.
I have many lovely Christmas memories. From my youth, celebrating with my family, but also from the year I worked as an au-pair in Italy and stayed there for Christmas. I was invited to celebrate Christmas with a family I knew from church (the same people who invited me to a Scandinavian advent party), and they had also invited the church organ player who was American. We had a great time! We had dinner for 4 hours. Remember, this is Italy we’re talking about! Lots of different dishes, drinks, desserts. Afterwards, we played games and sang Christmas songs together. They even had a Christmas gift for me, so thoughtful of them!
All I want for Christmas is…
- I want us, and our friends and families to remain healthy and that we can see them soon again.
- I want Covid to disappear or become harmless like a seasonal flu or cold.
- I want us to continue to enjoy our new Christmas traditions and have a good and cheerful time also this year.
So how do we like Christmas in Ireland? It’s very mixed. Christmas is so bound to tradition, and culture. To me, certain elements have to be there for me to get the Christmas feeling – it’s a lot about food, scents, visual elements. Our traditional decor, the smell of glögg and ginger biscuits, hyacinths. But Ireland isn’t particularly different to Sweden when it comes to spices and decorations – some of it just comes in different forms. I love the Christmas period here, there’s a lovely atmosphere in town and normally lots of nice events happening. We have brought our most important Christmas traditions to Ireland, and hope to mix in more of the Irish festivities when we can be out and about more. In the future, it would be truly lovely to see friends during the Christmas period, have a drink, play music, have dinner together.
It was a very emotional journey to write this post! But I’m glad I did it, and I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s post!