We’re all entranced with the pared down purity of Scandinavian interiors, but at Christmas this means a full natural spruce (forget bare branches), and a natural, home-spun style of less-manufactured flash, and low expense.
Shake off the dark oppressive days as they do in the northern hemisphere — a break that has as much to do with the pagan practices of the Winter Solstice — as it does about the Christian year.
Bundle up on Christmas week and kick through the leaves for decorating finds. Fold, snip, sew, and even get back to baking to bring these looks home. Follow the links for instructions and recipes.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to over-winter in Sweden, will remember it forever. A fluff of snow against the door, shifting candlelight, the effervescent scent of glögg, julmust, almonds, and cinnamon, the whole family dancing unselfconsciously around the tree — it’s simply another world.
The festival of the martyred saint of light, St Lucia, on December 13, marks the beginning of Advent, and girls dressed in white, wear lights (sometimes real, lit candles!) in a crown, while carrying a basket of warm saffron buns. There are plenty of recipes online if you want to try them out for December 13.
Candles must always be monitored, but it’s worth including fat,stable candles set in a rich cornucopia of natural woodland materials for the Christmas day feast, where adults can be watchful. We use a rack of real deer antlers for ours.
Go for natural scent too. Wrap cinnamon sticks with a small snippet of fir tree with plain rough string around your Irish linen table napkins. Try daring, cold dishes of pickled herring, a Swedish black pudding, lax gravad (marinated salmon) and delicious lingonberry jam, yummy with sweet or savoury (IKEA and M&S).
Straw figurines, including angels, goats, and folksy figures are traditional for a Swedish tree and perfect with home-made felt decorations. If you can plait a flat piece of straw and snip ribbon, you’re in business, try Etsy for natural and paper straw makes.
Swedish (some call them Froebel or Danish) folded paper stars mix up beautifully with a two-colour tree and for ornamenting presents. Anna’s Paper Creations at youtube.com/watch?v=t1gN52d_eMA.
Fold up your own baubles from shiny papers inspired by the Sostrene Grene sisters in their DIY section (or cheat and nip down to the shop on Cork’s St Patrick’s Street for a kit). sostrenegrene.com/diy-fold-paper-christmas-tree-baubles
Large Froebel-style star for anywhere at all, €22.40, Debenhams. Self-sew Christmas baubles, tree, gift or fox to embroider, €5 each, Tiger Stores (a lovely cheap present for anyone too). Six felt toadstools in new Vinter collection, €7, IKEA.
In Norway, local communities gather together in juleverksted (Christmas workshops) for weeks before the holy days to make decorations, preserved foodstuffs, spiced cakes, and sweet treats like pepperkaker (ginger biscuits), beloved throughout Scandinavia.
Furniture, beds, chairs and every available surface are draped with decorative linens and weaves taken out and re-used every year, a tradition also popular in America, and an encouragement to gather heirloom decor you can hand on.
Folk embroideries in wool are perfect. Even the curtains can be changed out for Christmas curtains and pelmets to brighten up the dark evenings. Try the hand-printed red tablecloth idea using fabric paint, little hands, and a scarlet or green length of cotton at letslassothemoon.com.
For a more delicious Norwegian feel, I love this gingerbread recipe for beautiful little knit jumpers. Pick your own theme. Remember, to leave a hole for a ribbon to hang gingerbread from, if they are going into garlands or up onto the tree: bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/gingerbread-jumpers.
You can ice the biscuits with the whole family gathered around a large table, just put a couple of tablespoons of icing into a small plastic bag and snip off a tiny corner for quick piping tools.
It’s traditional to take the tree pepperkaker down on the 13th of January (Tjugondag Knut) and devour them. Children will also enjoy making small heart shaped paper basket (julekurver) for the nisse (winter gnomes) to put a sweet in on Christmas morning. Instructions here: stavanger-web.com/baskets.php
Christmas cookie cutter set in stainless steel (star, tree, and gingerbread man) €3.50, Home Store + More. Snowflake pattern cushions, €44.95, Meadows & Byrne.
Sharing a cultural link with both Sweden and Norway, the Danes also eat and make merry with a unique enthusiasm of their own on Christmas Eve (juleaften) rather than Christmas Day, enjoying goose, pork or duck, rather than turkey. Meat is served with sweet/sour red cabbage and caramelised potatoes.
The national colours of red and white dominate, recalling national pride in the face of German aggression, including small flags on the tree. That countdown to Christmas with calendars and candles is very important. Their four-flame advent wreath made popular in the 1930s, lays flat on a table or hangs like a chandelier and marks the four Sundays ’til Jule.
There’s a lovely belief in Denmark that the animals can speak on Christmas Eve, and wild creatures are honoured with some hygge of their own. Load up the bird-table or bring some suitable seeds on a long woodland walk to honour this annual magic.
Danes are hooked on nostalgic Christmas cartoons, run loyally every year on TV stations in a sequence over Christmas. Look out at any Scandi-shop for traditional kravlenisser, mischievous Disney-like gnomes with red hats that are used in paper cut-outs for decorating shelves and around windows.
Have your children Google ‘nisse’ and print out their favourite characters, trim them out like little Danes, and stick them along a simple line of string and put up anywhere you fancy from balustrades to cavorting up the tree.
George Jensen Danish silver collectable ornaments are gorgeous, but try Irish makers for equally lovely and affordable takes.
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