Swede deal: a taste of 'jul' in an Irish yule
If you are in Stockholm any time in December, you will see a single white star lit in the window of every house and apartment. Inside, there will be white candles and Christmas trees decorated with clear lights. No Santys climbing up the walls in a bewilderment of flashing colours. No coloured lights at all. No excess. A discreet touch of red, in the table cloths or napkins, some of which may be family heirlooms, sewn by some long-gone ancestor (on our tree, we have little paper flags for Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, dating from the second World War, when solidarity with the occupied Scandinavian countries was demonstrated on the Christmas tree).
How do you reconcile two rituals, which have some elements in common and many different?
It’s easy enough if they fall on different days. We do the Swedish Christmas on the 24th and the Irish Christmas on the 25th. Somewhat more low-key, since Christmas parties are tiring. But we go to Mass (even though he is a Lutheran humanist and I’m a Catholic humanist), have a walk on the beach, eat turkey and mince pies. Santy came down the chimney when there were children in the house. We have some gaudy Irish decorations vying with the tasteful Swedish stuff. And the sprouts, of course.
I have to ask myself, why did I so quickly adapt to a Swedish Christmas? It should have been the other way round. I’m at home, my husband’s the immigrant, the “new Irish”. It’s true that he is a self-confident Swede (is there any other kind?) who knows Sweden is the best country on earth. So it goes without saying that its customs must be maintained, wherever Swedes find themselves. The festivals, Lucia and midsummer, are in fact celebrated by the Swedish community in Ireland, at events organised by the Swedish Womens Education Association and the Irish-Scandinavian Club. But perhaps I took to the customs because I admire Sweden so much. It’s probably the most democratic and caring society on earth, especially if you are a woman or a child (or an animal: in Sweden, even the dogs have rights).
I’m happy to be attached to Sweden. In that most secular and multicultural society, the fundamental message of Christmas (peace on earth, goodwill to everyone) is in general practised, more so than elsewhere. It deserves to be celebrated.