And so it is Christmas. Like many places around the world, Sweden celebrates on Christmas Eve. Festivities throughout the day include eating the Christmas ham, receiving a visit from Santa, opening presents, drinking, playing board games and eating more.
But the day usually kicks off with a steaming bowl of rice porridge. This delightful dish is made of rice, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Deep inside the porridge, there is often an almond. Presuming you don’t choke on it, if you find the almond it means you will be married during the following year. In the south of Sweden, and in Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the person finding the almond receives a gift. During the 1920’s it became trendy in Sweden to replace the almond with a ‘porridge doll’ made of porcelain and hide that in the porridge instead.
Really superstitious people will even leave a bowl of porridge outside tonight to appease the house gnome who, according to legend, can make your cows dry up if he’s pissed off.
But hopefully nobody should be pissed off on a day like today. And with family and friends gathered around a twinkling Christmas tree, a bowl of steaming hot rice porridge is a great way to kick off a lovely day.
It’s said that Swedes have an enviable work life balance and this festive season has been no exception. Similar to many countries, Christmas and New Year are both bank holidays in Sweden. Similar to a few countries, today is also a bank holiday – kings’ day, epiphany or the twelfth day of Christmas. Biblically it signifies the arrival of the three wise men and the baptism of Jesus. Secularly, it means another day off for most people.
This festive season has been a great opportunity for time off. By taking only 5 days’ holiday, workers have been able to be off for two and a half weeks. And with 8 days’ holiday – 3 weeks off was the reward.
A strong belief in work life balance is behind this. In general, Swedes work really hard and are dedicated. Coupled with the darkness at this time of the year, many people are exhausted by the time Christmas comes around. A long break is seen as a necessary way to recharge batteries, and regain motivation. There’s a great Swedish word that you frequently hear after these long breaks – people describe themselves as ‘utvilade’. This translates as ‘thoroughly rested’, and is essential to survive the long, dingy winter season.