Swede deal: a taste of 'jul' in an Irish yule
Mixing Christmas rituals is a tradition for this Swedish-Irish family, whose big celebration on Chtistmas Eve, writes EILIS NI DHUIBHNE
Anthropologists say that calendar customs are crucial for human well-being. Festivals punctuate the year with reliable, pleasant rituals, providing necessary breaks from the monotony of everyday routine. They reinforce our sense of community, and emphasise our connection with the past, since most of the customs reach to the remotest depths of history and pre-history.
Even Christmas, the origin of which we can more or less date (unlike say that of Halloween, or May Day) incorporates plenty of pre-Christian elements. The contemporary Irish festival includes practices which are borrowed from many countries: English and American food, German decorations, Scandinavian gift-bringers. Like almost every kind of folklore, the feast of Christmas includes indigenous and international elements.
It’s multi-layered. Its rituals are designed by a widening gyre of creators: starting with the individual, the family, the neighbourhood, and expanding to the region, country, religion, and the world.
You will hear many people say: “I always read A Christmas Carol,” or, “We always have parsnips and carrots, as well as the sprouts, of course.”
There are strong local rituals. On the Blasket Islands, you had to go down to the Trá Bán and have a violent game of hurling before you tucked into your beef and whiskey. These days, Dublin folk enjoy plunging into the Forty Foot. At national level, there’s Midnight Mass, Santy coming down the chimney, holly and ivy, mulled wine in offices on Christmas Eve and the turkey and ham (and the sprouts, of course). All aspects of the tradition have become increasingly important to Irish people. Christmas won’t be Christmas without parsnips. It’ll be ruined if I don’t freeze some part of my anatomy in the Irish Sea before pre-turkey drinks with the O’Briens around the corner.
Like all folk customs, the Christmas rituals have always been subject to variation and renewal. As soon as any new family establishes itself, or two people set up home, a blending of rituals – or maybe a clash – will occur. If the couple are of mixed nationalities the potential for clash, or for enrichment, is greater because every country in Europe (never mind further afield) does Christmas in its own way, which has some things in common with the worldwide tradition and some that are unique.
Lucy in the sky
Our family is half Swedish and half Irish. Our Christmas has, for the past 30 years, been more Swedish than Irish, for reasons to be considered later.
Swedish Christmas really starts on December 13th, with Lucia – St Lucy’s Day – and the saying: “Lucy Lucy Lucy bright, shortest day and longest night.” While the shortest day is actually December 21st, the anomaly was caused by the calendar adjustment from the Julian to the Gregorian in Sweden in 1753. In that year, February 17th was followed immediately by March 1st, so 11 days “disappeared”. Before the change, the winter solstice was on December 13th).