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December 12, 2004

So that’s why…
Posted by Teresa at 12:34 PM * 100 comments

I’m trying to remember now who it was that was being so dubious when I mentioned that the Danish side of the family—my Nielsen grandparents, at whose house we always observed Christmas Eve—had a firm tradition of serving rice pudding to everyone before dinner. In one bowl there would be a hidden almond, and whoever got it was given a present.

“Rice pudding?” said my interlocutor. “On Christmas?”

“Christmas Eve,” I said. “And yes, rice pudding. Always.” I don’t know how to explain now, because I didn’t know how I knew it then, but it had the feeling of something that had to happen. It was a minor mystery, unfortunately not investigated when questions might have been answered, as is so often the case with odd memories of one’s grandparents.

Today, quite by accident, I ran across this:
Of goats and elves. Scratch the surface of Christmas folklore in Scandinavian countries, and you find images and traditions that probably go way back. Perhaps this is because Christian missionaries didn’t reach these countries until the 10th and 11th centuries. …
Tut. Saint Ansgar went to Sweden in 829.
There’s the Julbock or Julbukk, or Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, who had his beginnings as carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge.
(The site notes that the Finnish version of the Yule goat, the Joulupukki, has been known to make the delivery run himself, riding on a bicycle—when he isn’t using a sleigh and reindeer.)
The Yule elf is called Jultomten in Sweden, Julesvenn in Norway, and Julenissen in Denmark and Norway. Julenissen was remembered fondly in 1908 by Jacob Riis:
“I do not know how the forty years I have been away have dealt with Jule-nissen, the Christmas elf of my childhood….He was pretty old then, gray and bent, and there were signs that his time was nearly over. When I was a boy we never sat down to our Christmas Eve dinner until a bowl of rice and milk had been taken to the attic, where he lived with the martin and its young, and kept an eye upon the house—saw that everything ran smoothly. I never met him myself, but I know the house cat must have done so. No doubt they were well acquainted, for when in the morning I went in for the bowl, there it was, quite dry and licked clean, and the cat purring in the corner….the Nisse, or the leprecawn—call him what you like—was a friend indeed to those who loved kindness and peace.”
An offering for the house-elf! And notice Riis’s never: this was something that had to happen. I don’t know whether Grandpa or Grandma Nielsen had any notion of leaving some rice pudding out as an offering, and I never heard mention of any Christmas entity other than Santa Claus. Still, there was that sense of something imperative attached to Christmas Eve rice pudding.

If that’s the deal, maybe I’ll make some this year. It’s not that I’m a Scandinavian; I’m not. I’m an American who’s partly of Scandinavian descent. House-elves have never had a significant place in my worldview, and they don’t have one now. It’s just that I don’t want to be impolite about it.

Comments on So that's why...:
#1 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:17 PM:

I used to make rice pudding for my mum's Christmas Eve party every year: she got the idea from a Scandinavian, and I was glad to do it, because (a) it was delicious (b) it exempted me from doing anything else, because it was time-consuming.

Rice pudding with real custard made with eggs, and large quantities of whipped cream, and a small quantity of finely pulped apricots (tinned variety: push through a sieve). And one blanched almond in the whole white bowl, which makes one Lord of Misrule if my mum had ever been yuletide enough to have such a thing at her parties. It was delicious, and very rich, and one ate it in very, very small bowls. But my mum stopped having those parties, and I haven't made it since.

#2 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:28 PM:

Well, of course it's something that has to happen: the rice pudding, the almond, the present; exactly as you describe it, except after dinner rather than before. (We pour rødgrød over the rice pudding; did you do this, too?) This is a tradition in my family, too (and we also have a straw Yule goat), but I had never heard about the elf business, either.

#3 ::: Lucy Huntzinger ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:29 PM:

When I visited Iceland at Christmas one year I was surprised to see shoes on the windowsills of many of the apartments (there aren't many houses in Reykjavik). It seems the custom of receiving gifts from the Jólasveinar (mischievious imps) was not only an important tradition during Yule but something like forty percent of the adult population believed elves were quite real. I didn't hear whether rice pudding was involved, but the elves came down from the mountains specifically to get hold of some of the Christmas food.

A site with more details: http://www.eurochristmas.com/euroinfo/iceland.htm

#4 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:39 PM:
The site notes that the Finnish version of the Yule goat, the Joulupukki, has been known to make the delivery run himself, riding on a bicycle...

If that is actually the Finnish goat, and not the Finnish elf, I don't understand how he can use a bicycle. I mean, how would he brake?

#5 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Slightly OT, but relating to nissen - when my Norwegian grandmother took her first walk around and beyond my parents' new property in the '70s, she was nearly paralyzed with laughter upon being told what the name of the stream running behind the property was. The local native name of "Nissetissit" translates roughly in Norwegian to "elf pee."

#6 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 03:59 PM:

There is a wonderful and terrifying story about the _hustomte_ (and elf is much too fey and friendly a term) in Selma Lagerloef's short stories. I translated one of them in installments as a blog, a couple of years ago. Perhaps I should do this again.

#7 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:07 PM:

At the risk of self-promotion, the troll story I blogged is here

#8 ::: Catherynne M. Valente ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:14 PM:

My Danish grandparents did this too! I had no idea it was a Scandanavian thing, I thought my grandmother made it up! That's...really kind of lovely, and it makes me happy, though she died long before she could see me force my Greek husband to endure the tradition...

#9 ::: JamesG ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:24 PM:

But if you start feeding the House-elves you always run the risk that they really, really like it and don't move on to the next house. Then next thing you know, they've taken over your basement, called all of their friends (long distance of course)and designated your home as "The" place to be.

#10 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:25 PM:

I think my house-elf has termites.

#11 ::: Soli ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:26 PM:

Yeah, that sounds about right. My family is Swedish on both sides, my mother actually born there, so we have a Swedish Jul here. No rice pudding, though I've heard of way too many cultures doing something like that. Actually I should ask mom if that might happen in Sweden too.

We also have hustomten figures in the house, I believe fully in them, my mother not so much, but it is a very Swedish. ha ha. The holiday meal is ham (boars were sacred to Freyr and Freyja), and we do have a straw goat among the decor put up.

#12 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 04:29 PM:

Hm, giving a gift to the guy who got the almond in his porridge sounds a lot like they stole the idea from Willy Wonka hiding invitations in his candy bars. Someone ought to sue. Johnny Depp as the new Wonka, by the way, sounds pretty cool.

#13 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Teresa:

I checked on the web, but found no mention of rice pudding or bicycles in the authoritative:

Reindeer grazing and soil nutrient cycling in boreal and tundra ecosystems

Sari Stark
Department of Biology, University of Oulu
Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, for public discussion in Kuusamonsali (Auditorium YB210), Linnanmaa, on May 18th, 2002, at 12 noon.
Copyright © 2002
University of Oulu
Reviewed by
Professor Sven Jonasson
Docent Heikki Setälä
UNIVERSITY OF OULU, OULU FINLAND 2002
ISBN 951-42-6692-7
URN:ISBN:9514266927
Abstract:
"In northernmost Fennoscandia, grazing by reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.) has a substantial impact on the vegetation of boreal forests and arctic-alpine tundra heaths, which are reflected in below-ground processes, such as nutrient mineralization and soil organic matter decomposition. In the present thesis, the effects of reindeer grazing on soil nutrient cycling were studied by comparing grazed situation with an ungrazed control area in ten boreal forests and six arctic-alpine tundra heaths...."

On the other hand, there's
By Bikes and Canoes to Reindeer Farm
"Departure from Nature Safaris safari house by bikes towards Reindeer Farm. Driving distance approx. 12 km. At the Farm we get to know the reindeers and the herder will tell us about everyday life in a Reindeer Farm. We will enjoy coffee and bun in Kota after the introduction. Time to change bikes to canoes! Our canoeing trip is on River Kitinen, a peaceful and beautiful river. Canoeing distance approx. 10 km...."

and then:

Dear Santa,
Could I PLEASE have a bike for Christmas. I know you think you sent me a bike for Christmas last year. Mum told me not to sound ungracious and rude, but what was that thing you sent me? It folds in the middle? There's no basket. And are wheels supposed to be that small. Please Santa. A real bike that won't get me laughed at by all the kids at school.
Fiona.

Dear Fiona.
What is it with you kids and the fricken' bikes. Do you know how freaken' heavy those suckers are. The reindeer are a couple of thousand years old now and humping a hundred tonnes of metal and rubber halfway around the world is not making their wheezing any better. Getting laughed at by your friends is a way of growing up, especially when you take to them in a darkened alley with a baseball bat (darn, I spoiled your Christmas surprise now, haven't I).
Your mother is right about cutting out the whining ... spoilt little brat.
Remember, good girls get good presents and bad girls get even better ones.
Are you going to wait up for me like you did last year? That would be fun again.
Luuuuuuuuuuuuurve Santa.

Recipe at:

Scandinavian porridge
Last Updated: April 4, 2002
The Kitchen Technician
Sandy D'Amato
ARCHIVE

If the word "porridge" evokes memories of Three Bears stick-to-your-ribs-like sustenance, you are not far off. Porridge is a frugal dish with a base of usually wheat, oats, rice, etc. cooked to a mush - filling and simple.

In Scandinavia, the typical porridge is cooked with cream or milk (as this is a dairy area), and is finished with cinnamon or other spices with a bit of sweetness to make it more palatable.

Traditionally, Scandinavian Christmas Eve meals began with rice porridge. Over the years this porridge has evolved into a very elegant rice pudding or "risgrynsgrot" that now takes its place at the end of the meal as dessert.

The recipe I've developed is flavored with cardamom and has a brittle creme brulee-type glaze. To add excess, a bit of lingonberry preserves wouldn't hurt. Either way, this pudding will bring a smile to your fussiest reindeer.

Sanford "Sandy" D'Amato, chef/co-owner of Sanford Restaurant and Coquette Cafe is a James Beard Award winner.

#14 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 05:12 PM:

We have straw goats and jul nissen/tomten here, too -- in fact, I hope to get the goats and the tomten out tomorrow on Lucia Day -- and used to have rice pudding. Grandma and my great-aunt were happy when I made one for Thanksgiving, even though it was with wild rice and sour cherries instead of white rice and raisins, because they knew it was a holiday thing. They just couldn't quite think what holiday thing, or why. But we still have smorgasbord for Christmas Eve, and lefse and herring and krumkake and pepparkakor and our namesake berries. (Those would be lingonberries, not mrisberries.)

Mine was the first "mixed marriage" in our family (the lawfully wedded is Dutch-American, all the way on both sides). Everyone seems to be managing just fine: lefse is a bonding experience.

#15 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 05:25 PM:

I mean, how would he brake?

Goats don't brake. Elves . . . maybe if there's something in it for them.

Hm, giving a gift to the guy who got the almond in his porridge sounds a lot like they stole the idea from Willy Wonka hiding invitations in his candy bars.

Burying something in holiday food, with a reward for whoever chokes on . . . I mean, finds it, covers a lot of territory. The best-known would be the silver thruppeny bit in the Christmas pudding (see also Smith of Wootton Major), but the baby in the New Orleans King Cake also comes to mind. I've heard that some King Cake bakers have stopped embedding the baby on product liability grounds. I think they put it in the package, and you can enfantify the cake yourself, though this is Not At All the Right Thing. Of course, this may all be an urban legend about Those Bad People Who Won't Let Us Have Fun.

The almond, at least, is a Scandahoovianly practical solution.

And besides, your place ought to have an elf. He'll like the interior angles.

The wind here, irrelevantly, is doing the 40-50 MPH thing. I am on the top floor. For the moment.

#16 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 05:38 PM:

Mris - while lefse is a bonding experience, lutefisk is generally not.

#17 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 06:02 PM:

Some Christmas stollen have a small rock in them. The finder gets to be King of the Day or some-such.

Or is this a New Year's sort of thing?

Actually, I heard this from Julia's husband. Maybe she can pass on a query.

I should make up a version of this for the italian side of the family. A foreign object in the polenta, perhaps, or a gnocchi made of plaster. ("Ah. That means you make a mortgage payment for the host.")

#18 ::: sGreer ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 06:07 PM:

The side-by-side seeming contradiction of strong Christianity and strong pre-Xtian traditions was all over Sweden when I was there, and none of the Swedes blinked an eye. My step-mother is Swedish, and almost virulently Xtian - pentacostal Lutheran (I had no idea there was such a thing). The very idea of me writing about elves, or phookas, or tanuki, makes her shudder and mutter comments in Swedish. Some things don't need to be translated to be understood: Those Things Are Devil-stuff.

Yet, while in Sweden, my sister and I saw trolls *everywhere* - gnome and troll dolls in the windows of lamp shops, grocery stores, clothing shops. When we asked, Gunnel and the other Swedes - equally religious as she - informed us that those are Quite Swedish. They saw no contradiction between joking that trolls will eat bad children and their religious beliefs. I suppose when it's your socio-cultural tradition, it's in a category by its own.

Then again, I also had a Southern grandmother who was staunchly Presbyterian, who used to wet her broom and shake it over the plants. She'd tell me, "it sounds like rain, and that reminds the clouds of what they should be doing" - and if that ain't sympathetic magic, I don't know what is.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 06:19 PM:

Q, we had no rødgrød (no berries) and no straw goat (no straw). It's hard being traditionally Scandinavian when you're living in Sonoran desert. Some people made decorative snowmen for their front yards by sticking a broomstick in the ground, then impaling one large, one medium, and one small tumbleweed on it. They'd spraypaint the tumbleweeds white and add other details as seemed good to them.

Lucy, are those imps the ones whose parents eat bad children? Iceland's understanding of elves hasn't been softened as much as the rest of Europe's. Graydon tells me that a phenomenal number of houses in Iceland have some volume of space with a small door on it, for the elves to live in. Somebody else was telling me about a survey in Iceland which revealed that 10% of Icelanders definitely believe in elves, 10% definitely believe elves don't exist, and the other 80% didn't want to answer in case the elves were listening.

Dan, if you can believe in a Christmas-present-delivering goat riding on a bicycle, why balk at the brakes?

Andrew, I loved the troll story when you posted it, and have no problem with you referring to it again. You have that great and necessary characteristic by grace of which all else may be forgiven: you're mindful of your audience.

The Lagerlof story spooks me. I keep feeling like she's talking about the experience of raising a mentally or emotionally abnormal child.

JVP, I'm not going to ask how you think that cut-and-pasted material is relevant, because I'm pretty sure you know it isn't. I'm asking why you think it's interesting. I mean, it's not overwhelmingly boring per se; but it connects with single nouns in my post, rather than with any larger sense of what's going on in it.

Mris, that sounds great, except for the lefse. Can I swap it for three kinds of pickled herring?

Mike, you have to see the new place: clean, well lit, well ventilated, so sturdily built that I'm going to have to get some new drill bits if I want to fasten anything to the exterior walls, and blessedly rectilinear. The hardwood flooring has an unusual dotted appearance because whoever put it down didn't trust that the normal number of nails per stick would be enough.

Joy, joy, joy. And you wouldn't believe how many health problems cleared right up when we moved away from the old place. This one I can imagine having a self-respecting house-elf. My theory is that the old place lost its luck when the landlord remodeled the bathroom and plastered over the third window. (From the back yard, you can see that there had been three tall thin windows set close together there, suggesting that the original owner's previous profession had involved explosives.)

By the way, we now have a proper spare room in the basement, a sort of mother-in-law apartment, complete with door, broadband, separate street access, no floods pouring through the ceiling, and a second loo on the same floor.

That's 40-50 m.p.h. wind in Minneapolis? Nasty weather.

Stefan, over my lifetime to date I've put a fair amount of effort into keeping small rocks out of bean soup and refritos. I'm not going to go putting rocks into food. It's hard on the teeth.

Greer, devil-stuff is other people's superstitions. I was shocked recently to see, in a list of superstitions, the belief that you should never transport your old broom to a new house. I never thought of that as a belief. It's just what you do.

#20 ::: helpful ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 06:23 PM:

Xian; X means "Christ," not "Chris."

Despite whatever Christtina thinks.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 06:30 PM:

Xian logically; Xtian if you're going by syllables and sound.

#22 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 07:00 PM:

helpful & Teresa:

Except (xcept?) when X means "Trans" as in Xformer and Xistor. Electrical Engineering folks will back me up on this. I did know a Caltech student who wanted to invent an ontological "Existor."

My great-grandmother Velke (literally "Violet") made exquisite (xquisite?) rice pudding with raisins and almonds on Hanukkah. Hers was a Galician recipe. Related to her amazing bread pudding and noodle pudding. She hand-made the egg noodles first. Did the Vikings make it to the Jewish villages of Eastern Europe, I wonder? And those reindeer -- cloven hooves or not?

#23 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 07:21 PM:

Teresa would like to clarify that she didn't actually forget that Mike stayed here for nearly a week just this past September. Really. She was just testing.

#24 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Dan --

Speaking as someone whose childhood character-forming experiences included not merely milking the goat but getting the goat out of trees -- 'happy as a goat in an apple tree' isn't a proverb, but it could be -- I don't think you have to worry about it. The goat will arrive where the goat feels it ought to be, and leave questions of mechanism with the same sort of person who questions why the goat is there.

Teresa --

Making snowmen of tumbleweed is an image that will stay with me a long while.

Andrew --

Ylf only went twee late in the reign of Victoria. Before that, the best you could hope for were the opinionated dead.

#25 ::: Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 07:27 PM:

According to this website on the Basics of Taxonomy, reindeer are cloven hoved and chew their cud:

"Most European Ungualtes belong to either the Cervidae or the Bovids.

There are 38 species of deer in the Family Cervidae. They are a very succesful family widely distributed throughout the world. Deer have evolved as runners. They tend to have slight frames but long legs. The cloven hoves help facilitate fast running. They have good sences to avoid predators. All deer are ruminants. One particular feature of deer is that the males often possess antlers, which are grown from spring and are used in the rut. Unlike horns, the antlers are not permanant and are lost each year."

#26 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 08:18 PM:

Terry Pratchett did a lot with the "nut in the pudding" tradition in Hogfather.

Strictly speaking, it should be "Χmas," not "Xmas." (Depending on your browser, those may appear as the same thing. If so, just take my word for it that they're different. Look at the source if you don't believe me.)

#27 ::: A Married New York City Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 09:29 PM:

After we lit the menorah lights, we always sang _Maoz Tzur_ - "Rock of Ages" - the whole way through: six long stanzas. Took about five minutes.

Now I don't come from an Orthodox religious household, and I've never seen anybody else, including the Orthodox people I've spent time with on Hanukka, sing the whole thing.

So, why? Tonight I found out.

Larry Josephson was talking to Ismar Schorsch (president of the Jewish Theological Seminary) earlier on WNYC, and Schorch starts talking about his father Emil, who was the second Rabbi at the Hüngheim Synagoge in Hannover.

Schorsch Senior was arrested on November 9, 1938, and Schorsch's family secured his release by presenting visas for transit to England. Schorsch Junior recounted how he and his family lit the candles for the first day of Hanukka in Hannover (Wednesday, December 14, 1938), and the candles for the second day in London, after they flew from Germany to Britain. Ferociously expensive trip for the time. They sang all the stanzas of Maoz Tzur in thanks for being saved.

Here's my family's Hanukka story. My grandfather was also arrested on Kristallnacht, went to Dachau, and had his release secured by visas to England and hefty bribes to the Gauleiter. Here's the divergence - my grandmother went to England first, in April 1939, and my grandfather followed at the very end of August. On arrival in Liverpool after the beginning of the war, he was arrested and interned on the Isle of Wight as an enemy alien, and released in November 1939.

We light a Hanukka menorah that my grandfather made from scrap metal. He worked in a West End bicycle factory converted to munitions, and he made a menorah out of some scrap stainless sheet metal, because all of my grandparents' judaica had been confiscated during the emigration inventory of their belongings.

#28 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 09:51 PM:

Another entry in the "hiding something to choke on in holiday food" tradition is the French Galette des rois, which I guess is the same thing as the New Orleans King Cake now that I think of it. I ate it several times when I used to live in France.

(My parents, at the time, also made me wait until January 6th to open my presents. I'm not sure whether this was to fit in with local culture, or to get more shopping days).

#29 ::: David Weman ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:24 PM:

Elf doesn't sound right to me either as a translation of tomte/nisse/bisse. Tomtar are eartly, not aethereal, and lives next to you, not in faerie. And tomtar are distinct from älvor or alver (and Danish equivalents I assume.) Gnomes is a better translation, I think.

The contemporary Swedish Yule gnome is pretty much identical to the anglosaxon Santa Clause I'd say, and to some extent he was from the start.

#30 ::: Magenta ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:50 PM:

Weather report update from Minneapolis, at 9:30 pm CST. 21 degrees, wind is northwest at 25 mph, gusting to 35, making it feel like 5 above. I hope Mike is okay, some of those top floors sway in this much wind..

There is a store here called Ingebretson's that sells all things Norwegian, including straw goats - Julboks - in several sizes, up to 3 feet tall or larger. And elves, or rather, statues of elves and trolls and other such creatures. Very popular.

I think I will put out an offering for the trolls - something is riding that wind. I can hear it.

#31 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:58 PM:

"Elf" is a translation only in the sense of "elf" as "short, related to fairies but kinda not." They're more like brownies or Little People. Nothing to do with either pixies or Legolas.

I don't know about tomte, but nisse come in many varieties. Julenisse are the ones who leave goodies, get a tithe of risengrod (sorry, can't spell tonight) and only appear to children too young to talk. Husnisse are the traditional ones who clean a bit and take care of the farm animals. They like cats.

We do have juleboken (is that the correct plural?) all over the place. These are the compromises you make when a Jew marries a Danish pagan.

#32 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:01 PM:

Oh--and yes, we leave out a little bowl of rice pudding (still can't spell) for the julenisse. Mr. Mythago's great-grandmother actually saw a nisse once, so we assume that it's the nisse rather than racoons eating it. It does get eaten.

#33 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:24 PM:

We have been to Ingebretson's with Elise Matthesen, which is something like visiting the Grey Havens with Legolas. Everyone's accent headed north at roughly the speed of light. A fella could get to liking this kinda thing.

#34 ::: TheSquire ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:27 PM:

My grandmother is Danish and when we celibrate Christmas at her house we always pull the Christmas Tree out into the center of the room, link hands in a circle around it, and dance (walk) around the tree singing carols. I'm told this is a Danish holiday practice, though since my Great-Grandfather wasn't very religious/superstitious from what I've been told (didn't like the whole state religion thing Denmark had going), I'm not sure if this really is Danish or just something that got picked up.

#35 ::: tdoehne ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:36 PM:

My family Yule tradition is Danish, from the isle of Bornholm in the Baltic sea. On December 1st, we would put up a Jul calendar, with small rings. The Jul Nisse would tie a gift for each child to the rings for each day -- like an advent calendar, but with Nisse (brownies) bringing the gifts. Our house and my grandparents' house were decorated with straw goats, posters of Nisse, and little paper Nisse figures everywhere, doing all kinds of amusing things. Jul Nisse like cats, ride goats, pigs and geese, and eat risengrot.

Our family, with three small children, still celebrates this way (except that, being pagan, we do it on the solstice). When I was growing up, it was a big family reunion celebration, on Christmas eve, with three generations all collected together, some 18 people. Now we are scattered, and the children have children of their own.

Yes, we still leave a bowl of risengrot out for the nisse. The Christmas eve/Jul meal was/is a 'fasting' meal -- all white and yellow: boiled cod, cauliflower, and potatoes, with risengrot for dessert. Butter and yellow mustard sauce if you wish, cinnamon and butter in the risengrot. We also had/have the almond in the risengrot -- we kids grew up thinking it was found by chance, but I was told as an adult that my grandmother would 'fix' the lottery. Kids got it more often than adults, of course.

After the dinner, we would dance around the tree and sing songs, then open presents. Christmas day was a feast, and 'Santa Claus' would come, but to small children, it was an anticlimax. The real celebration was Christmas eve, when we got to open presents. Santa only brought small presents, and only came the once, so he was a comparitively unimportant figure in our childhood.

#36 ::: David Weman ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:36 PM:

Not Danish, Scandinavian.

#37 ::: David Weman ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:36 PM:

Or more properly Nordic.

#38 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:46 PM:

sGreer -- [omitted diatribe on Xianity, Roman overlords, acquisition, and traits of empire] the survival and toleration of folk beliefs under an official religion probably shows up wherever the official religion doesn't have slack for fun&games; e.g., De Camp notes at the beginning of Land of Unreason a British ?midlands? woman leaving milk for the elves on Midsummer Eve before going off to her job at the munitions factory. (I wonder if that was the seed the novel grew from?) This may be a corollary to Teresa's axiom that Story is a force of nature; the Stories that have held for centuries are too durable to disappear like vampires in the sun of the "modern age".

#39 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:23 AM:
Speaking as someone whose childhood character-forming experiences included not merely milking the goat but getting the goat out of trees -- 'happy as a goat in an apple tree' isn't a proverb, but it could be -- I don't think you have to worry about it. The goat will arrive where the goat feels it ought to be, and leave questions of mechanism with the same sort of person who questions why the goat is there.

I have some sympathy with that sort of person. In fact I am that sort of person, except that I don't really expect answers to those sorts of questions. Although, I can't but note that the goatly characteristic you describe is what made me start wondering why a goat would be out giving presents. If I were the goat, I would get the sheep to do it, or maybe the horse.

#40 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:34 AM:

To reassure Magenta, I am on the third floor of a pre-war brick building, so there is no swaying, though there was quite a lot of noise this morning (none now). The big threat to this place is its foundation (see also Particle, Why Buildings Faw Down Go Boom); this patch of ground used to be a pond, which was drained, in a limited sense of the word, by developers in the early part of the 20th Century. The water table is, as one might suppose, quite high, and about every four years there is a downpour that floods the basement to eye level. The electrics are mounted high, and we have never lost power due to such a flood (though it sometimes happens due to external damage).

There is a basement apartment. It is frequently rented out. We now return you to tonight's holiday special, Oo-er, There's an Almond in My Puddin', with Clive Owen as Captain Vimes.

#41 ::: liz ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:07 AM:

In children's literature: Astrid Lingren wrote, and Harald Wiberg & Viktor Rydberg illustrated, a lovely little book about the Tomten that I read each winter. Allison liked it until she was about five, when she really didn't want the Tomten visiting her room. Excellent gift for a new family. We are also very fond of Jan Brett's Christmas stories (The Trouble with Trolls).

Moving from Christmas and early readers to older, Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls was very satisfactory.

#42 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:07 AM:

the Finnish goat -- how would he brake?

Coaster brakes, of course! I've never completely trusted those hand things. I mean, it's not as if you need to brake and pedal at the same time, now is it?

We went to The Christmas Revels tonight, this year featuring an Elizabethan theme, lots of Fa la la la la and muted sackbut. Judging by the reaction at the Will Call table, there had been some discussion among the box office staff about the fact that tickets were being held for "Yule".

#43 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:24 AM:

"A goat on a bicycle doesn't have to brake. He blows his horn, and other get out of the way."

["I Hear the Horns of Elfland Blowing", opera premiere at the John Anson Ford Theatre]

#44 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 03:36 AM:

My mormor, who was a down to earth old lady, explained to us that you started dinner with the rice pudding to take the edge off everybody's hunger so there would be enough goose to go round.

#45 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 06:05 AM:

I looked at the version of the Lagerlöf Troll book which is on the net, and could not find the wonderful one about the hustomte who leads the owner of the estate to suicide.

The owner is an unworthy member of the ancient line who have owned the land forever, and has gambled almost everything away. One day, he gambles the house and grounds itself away to a passing guards officer. In the middle of the game, the tomte leaves his barn, and offers a bargain. He can win back the estate for the rightful family, but there will be a price ...

Sure enough, the luck changes in the card game. All the losses are restored, and more. The next day, the owner puts on full uniform, mounts his favourite horse, and rides, without a backward glance, down into the lake. Neither he nor the horsemake any attempt to swim. The brother inherits, and is prudent enough to meet the tomte's approval.

#46 ::: Therese Norén ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 06:29 AM:

There was talk among the roleplaying crowd of a Harry Potter LARP, but set in Sweden. A note would go out to the participants detailing the difference between Swedish nissar/tomtar [the word tomte has, according to some sources I've seen, the same etymology as the word for a lot of land, tomt] and house elves.

Nissar appreciates hard work, and will be mischievous to lazy people. They also expect to be treated with the utmost respect.

And yes, the dancing around the Christmas tree is also traditional.

#47 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 06:54 AM:

"In one bowl there would be a hidden almond, and whoever got it was given a present."

Anaphylactic shock?

That'd be my present... ;^)

#48 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 07:22 AM:

Jill, lutefisk is too a bonding experience. Lots of people I know bond over how damn much they hate the lutefisk. Almost everyone in my family agrees that lutefisk is not food we actually eat, it's a test to see if outsiders really, really want to marry into our family. "How much do you love my child? Eat this lye-soaked fish to prove it!" (The maritime museum in Bergen has an interesting exhibit about the beginning of lutefisk, or had when we were there when I was 10. It was originally a desperate measure to get the nutrients out of the difficult bits of the fish, the heads and the tails.)

Ingebretsen's had lutefisk when I was in there Saturday. I hope they're out by the time I go back. They also have Swedish meatball meat, with the different meats mixed and spiced, so I don't have to spend time mixing ground meats and spices myself -- I just roll the meatballs, cook 'em, and make the gravy. It's a very good thing. I will forgive them the lutefisk. (My grandmother lives outside the Promised Land, down in Nebraska, so I am often dispatched to Ingebretsen's, Hearts-and-Vines, and Taste of Scandinavia on errands just before I go down to visit. When I was a kid, nobody in Omaha got lutefisk jokes. My parents are very much like the British civil service people who settled in India: they're very comfortable in exile and have established their life there, but there are some customs they are not going to give up. "This is what we eat in the afternoons. And I don't care how they say it here, that's not how we say it." And of course their kid had to go home to the homeland for her education.)

Teresa, as many kinds of herring as you like. We went to a smorgasbord with nine when we were in Sweden, and my uncle apologized profusely for the lack of selection. He was deeply embarrassed.

#49 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 07:32 AM:

Mris - thanks for the laugh. Luckily I'm between cups of coffee. You are definitely right - lutefisk is a bonding experience. Just not the kind I was thinking of.

Mmmm... Herring. Must go get some herring. Does anyone else here think that mackerel sushi tastes somewhat like pickled herring, or am I the only one?

#50 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 07:36 AM:

There are a whole lot of folks (in Minneapolis and outside of it, say in Western Mass or Arizona) you could have asked about that rice pudding. We would have all said, "House elves!" without an eyelash flicker.

Jane

#51 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 07:36 AM:

Mris - meant to mention that I quite like your British East India Company metaphor as well. Growing up in NH amongst many French, Italian, and Irish meant nobody knew lutefisk jokes there either (until Prairie Home Companion got popular). I moved to Minneapolis for a few years after college and was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt when fitting in with the mainstream.

#52 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:21 AM:

The Icelandic example sentence which gets repeated in nearly every syntax paper on transitive expletive constructions is about jólasveinarnir eating pudding.

#53 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:21 AM:

Any regular watcher of animated TV show "King of the Hill" -- which is set in Texas -- would get a lutefisk joke. There was one hilarious episode where the fat young misfit son Bobby gorged on the stuff, was spectacularly sick "off camera", and mayhem ensued. (Luckily, his cranky grandpa finally copped to the "arson" charge after the church burned down.)

#54 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:41 AM:

The tradition of having a kind of food with a magical token in it which entitles the finder to a gift or to some special status appears to be a universal human custom -- at least, when I happened to have people from different parts of China and Mongolia over for Christmas pudding, they speculated freely on how such a custom could have spread from China to Wales.

I have a sixpence which I use for this purpose. Sixpences are known to be lucky -- it's astonishing that they were permitted to go out of circulation, really.

#55 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 11:56 AM:

The Polish side of Chad's family puts the almond in the Christmas Eve soup, served after the sharing of the oplatek [Communion-like wafers; everyone goes around and shares, oldest to youngest, and wishes each other a Merry Christmas] and before the fish and pierogi.

I believe the almond just brings luck. If it were a present, I think more people would do what Chad's cousin did a year or so ago and sneak in a handful of almonds from the mixed nuts assortment on the table.

#56 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:19 PM:

"The tradition of having a kind of food with a magical token in it which entitles the finder to a gift or to some special status appears to be a universal human custom."

Scary thought:

Some day the toke may incorporate nanotechnology, and the finder may undergo a real transformation.

#57 ::: Dru ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:00 PM:

From my memories of Roman Saturnalia descriptions, the feasts there would have breads/puddings in which a bean was cooked. I seem to recall that those ceremonies were as usual acquired from the Greek/Persian.

Perhaps it is a common way to select individuals when there is not enough of something to go around?

Or to normalize social pressure? If a slave can be King of the feast eve, then said slave might be less unruly for the next year...

The Yule log tradition goes back at least that far as well. A way to span from one year to another, I suppose.

and now I'm going to revisit my cluttergnome tale, what with all this talk of house-elf, lot gnome, or whathave you. I think the diversity of the cultural 'elf/gnome/brownie' as a part of the house is fairly interesting. The Penates and Lares from the Roman tradition seem to be of similar vein.

#58 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:37 PM:

I’m Icelandic and an off and on lurker here and Lucy Huntzinger’s post about Icelandic Christmas customs caught my eye.

Here’s a couple of comments but first my 2 cents’ worth about rice puddings: It’s fairly common in Iceland to serve rich rice pudding with a hidden almond just before Christmas Eve dinner, but I think this is generally perceived as being a Danish custom. I was always under the impression that it was a French dish originally. In Denmark it’s commonly called ‘ris alamand’. In fact, in Iceland it’s commonly called ris alamand.

But to the comments:

LUCY:

“When I visited Iceland at Christmas one year I was surprised to see shoes on the windowsills of many of the apartments”

This is a German custom which caught on in Iceland in the beginning of the 20th century. Children put a shoe in the windowsill before they go to bed and when they wake up in the morning ‘Santa Claus’ has left a little something in there for them, a piece of candy or a small toy.

“It seems the custom of receiving gifts from the Jólasveinar (mischievious imps) was not only an important tradition ... “ etc

The Jólasveinar are 13 in number and “mischievious imps” sounds like a good description. They descend from the mountains at Christmas time, no doubt attracted by the warmth, light and food. The first one appears 13 days before Christmas and the last one on Christmas Eve.
In the latter part of the 20th century the Jólasveinar somehow got mixed up with Santa Claus and started to show up in red suits and big white beards (on TV, in children’s Christmas parties etc). Yet they retained their old mischievious nature and their old names (‘candle thief’, ‘door slammer’ and suchlike). So Iceland has 13 Santa look-alikes.

“ ... but the elves came down from the mountains specifically to get hold of some of the Christmas food.”

That would be the Jólasveinar, not elves. Elves keep a low-profile during Christmas. If they need to move house they do so on New Year’s Eve. It’s wise to stay away from crossroads on New Year’s Eve. Twelfth Night, that’s when the elves have a big celebration.


TERESA:

“Lucy, are those imps the ones whose parents eat bad children?”

Yes. Or at least they stuff misbehaving children into a bag and take them away (to the mountains?) The parents are ‘ minor ogres’ (or something like that), from mythological past.

Then of course is the big black Christmas Cat. Children who don’t get any presents at Christmas are taken away by the Christmas Cat.

“Graydon tells me that a phenomenal number of houses in Iceland have some volume of space with a small door on it, for the elves to live in.”

Hm. I’m Icelandic and I’ve never heard of this. Actually house-elves are not much in evidence in Iceland. Elves live in big rocks, monoliths, cliff-faces. They are not in the habit of taking up residence in people’s houses. But sometimes they entice or invite people into THEIR houses.

And finally Teresa, thanks for a great site!

#59 ::: Richard Boye ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 07:31 PM:

Nothing to really add about the almond in the rice pudding thing, but ths whole topic puts me in mind of the ersatz "German" tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree.

My German-born great-aunts always insisted that they have no idea about what everyone was telling them should be their ancestral tradition.

#60 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 03:22 AM:

Rice porridge is certainly a Jul tradition in Sweden - known variously either as risgrynsgröt or julgröt. Usually cooked up with a cinnamon stick in it for flavor, and yes, an almond added in when that game is being played. Then served with milk and sprinkled with cinnamon and dark syrup (vaguely like treacle). The significance of the almond I've heard described various ways: the one who gets the almond will be married within the year, will have a year of good fortune, or will get a wish granted. We never got presents for it; getting the almond was supposed to be present enough.

And yes, absolutely, the mixture of Christian and pagan is happily blended throughout Swedish traditions & holidays, not just Christmas. At Easter children of both sexes dress up as witches and go from door to door on their broomsticks swapping easter drawings they've made for candy and money. Also at Easter it's traditional to bring newly green budding branches or pussy willows and hang them all over with blown out, decorated eggs. At midsummer people go out and gather greens and wildflowers for the maypole, raise it, and dance traditional old ring dances around it. And story has it that if you want to dream of your intended, you should gather seven different kinds of wildflower on midsummer eve and sleep with them under your pillow.

All of which are engaged in by Christian as well as secular Swedes. It's just like that.

#61 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 03:34 AM:

Mris-

Lutfisk is for pikers. Baby-stuff. The real hairy-man test of raw Scandinavianity is surströmming, a substance so vile, with a stench so profound, that even afficionados generally will only partake of it in summer, when it can be eaten outdoors. Think the limburger of fish, only moreso. Think kimchi, as visited upon a combination of fish and milk products, and allowed to rot and ferment until the can literally bulges outward. This is the foodstuff that will set you falling upon the lutfisk with cries of joy and gratitude.

#62 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 10:20 AM:

Ulrika, while I have claimed to be several Scandinavian-derived things, a real hairy man has never been on the list.

#63 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 11:44 AM:

Hairy men eat pottage. Smooth men sell it to them at a reasonable markup.

#64 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 12:53 PM:

Basically to back Anna up on what she said, with a couple of addendums:
The jólasveinar are probably more trolls than elves, at least their retconned parents are.
Also, the rice pudding is in my family (and others) is not that rich, merely rice boiled in milk with cinnamonsugar and cream. And an almond.
Finally, for anyone who bothers to use 'Nordic', many thanks. Scandinavia is technically only Sweden and Norway.

#65 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 12:58 PM:

The men draw lots at the winter solstice, and the winner gets to be the Year King. Then he's sacrificed in the spring, to bring good fortune and fertility to the land and the people.

It's a very old story, and it's told in many ways in many places, down to this day.

But when did rice get to Scandinavia?

#66 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 01:13 PM:

*wistful* I tried a rice-pudding recipe that involved a not-insignificant quantity of milk, forgetting my borderline lactose-intolerance (it didn't use to bother me nearly so much), and while it tasted lovely, I haven't tried *that* recipe since, no thanks to my stupid digestion.

However, there's a reasonable, ah, mock? rice-pudding recipe in the same cookbook that involves using plain yogurt, and while it's not the same, my digestion likes it better. :-p

#67 ::: Lucy Huntzinger ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Anna, regarding your comment upthread, thank you for clarifying. I was, of course, still meaning the Jólasveinar when I typed elves. Elves are different. Also, I wondered about the shoes! I knew it from the German tradition and thought it strange to see it in Iceland.

I loved being in Iceland at Christmastime, so much so that I am going to visit it in August so I can can actually see all the sights I missed during the too-short days.

#68 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 02:17 PM:

If you can digest coconut milk, it makes a very rich and flavorful rice puding.

#69 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2004, 05:15 PM:

Oooh! Coconut milk! That sounds lovely. I must go search for recipes now. Thank you!

*silly Korean-American enamored of rice pudding!*

#70 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 01:01 AM:

We have been to Ingebretson's with Elise Matthesen, which is something like visiting the Grey Havens with Legolas.

Traveling to IKEA with my mother-in-law is a similar experience.

Yoon, The Joy of Cooking has such a recipe. I just go ahead and substitute it straight up--use less sugar, though.

#71 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 10:32 AM:

It seems as if rice was introduced into Europe via Moorish Spain, after the Islamic empire presumably brought it west from India. It's not cultivated in Britain (and hence none of my texts have all that much about it directly,) but it was imported into Britain from southern Italy and Spain from at least the eleventh century. Likely from there it started being imported into Scandinavia -- Britain and Denmark were one country at that point after all -- and what was imported seems to have been short grain "pudding" rice.

So the rice pudding eating probably isn't an ancient custom but rather a medieval one. I hope nobody's too disappointed -- I expect the elves took to it as soon as they tried it.

#72 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 10:30 AM:

Speaking of current Danish tradition, many people eat porridge made of rice boiled in milk (risengrød) on the 23rd - from the leftovers (or from fresh rice), rice pudding (or risalamande in Danish, funny enough) is made, containing lots of almonds, but only one whole one, which is used in the way described in Teresa's post.
A lot of people don't eat risengrød any more, but a Christmas dinner without risalamande would be considered wrong. A heated cherry sauce is used together with it (not rødgrød any more).

The bowl left out for julenissen contained risengrød, not risalamande.

Added fact that some might not realize, in Scandinavia, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th.

Historically, risengrød was eaten before the Christmas dinner, to lessen peoples' appetite - I guess that when people could afford more food, it changed into a desert, risalamande, instead.

Having said all that, I can't stand risalamande, and certainly don't have any intention of eating any, even though I am a Dane living in Denmark.

#73 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 10:33 AM:

"Scandinavia is technically only Sweden and Norway."

Bjorn, I beg you pardon? On behalf of the Danes, I would like to log a protest. Denmark is certainly part of Scandinavia (which consists of Denmark, Norway and Sweden).

#74 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 11:18 AM:

Um. Scandinavia, *technically geographically*, is the Norway/Sweden peninsula. But yes, more commonly, Denmark as well is being implied. This leads to Iceland and Finland sometimes being included, which is quite wrong.
Which makes us out here in the sticks, as well as the Finns I suspect, want to see 'Nordic' used more.
Besides, what have the Danes ever done for us? we didn't even get aquaducts *g*

#75 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 12:08 PM:

Bjorn, if Scandinavia was the Norwegian/Swedish peninsula, then Finland should be included as well. However Scandinavia is typically used to refer to the countries from the Union of Kalmar, where Denmark defacto took over Sweden and Norway.

#76 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 12:31 PM:

Well, no, Finland is far less connected. And I invite you to name at least one more currently independent country which was part of the Kalmar Union, but isn't part of Scandinavia.
*sigh* I googled around, and The Nordic House in New York is actually named Scandinavia House. I guess the fight is futile.
But Nordic is still nicer and more inclusive.

#77 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 06:38 PM:

It is indeed named that. I walked past it just the other day. I also grew up hearing the Danish side of the family refer to Danes as Scandinavians, though I did know that Finns were Something Else Again. I'll try to remember to say Nordic instead. It's like remembering to call Britain Britain.

#78 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 06:56 PM:

It's like remembering to call Britain Britain.

"I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Finsbury has recently departed for the United Kingdom."

"Oh! Is it too late to send flowers?"

#79 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 10:20 PM:

Teresa's comment reminds me of something I read once, in a book of "common misconceptions debunked" or some such.

It explained that the Encyclopedia Britannica was misnamed because it was originally published in Scotland.

My reaction (since Scotland was still part of Great Britain last time I checked) was to take the rest of the book with even more skepticism than I had already been doing. (At least it was a freebie I acquired, rather than something I'd actually paid for.)

#80 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 03:50 AM:

I agree with Bjorn that Nordic is more inclusive, and it won't confuse people living in Scandinavia.

Bjorn, Finland and Iceland (and Greenland for that matter) was part of the Union of Kalmar, but not as countries in their own right. But, we are getting quite off-topic by now.

#81 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 06:40 AM:

I also grew up hearing the Danish side of the family refer to Danes as Scandinavians, though I did know that Finns were Something Else Again.

When my dad told my (Norwegian) grandmother he was bringing home my mom (who had a Nordic surname), my grandmother asked him how she spelled it - she was concerned that my mother might be Swedish. Dad was able to reassure Gramie that Mom was, in fact, of Danish extraction. (Gramie's family enjoyed an enduring bitterness about the aftermath of the Kiel settlement).

In later years, I dated a Finnish exchange student for a short period of time. Gramie asked, "He doesn't say he's Scandinavian, does he?"

I always figured that rigidly defining these things was Gramie's way of hanging on to her homeland. Either that or it was a great big internal joke to her. It was hard to tell with Gramie sometimes.

#82 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 08:38 AM:

As Teresa was observing here some time ago, Finnish is a very different language from the rest of the Western cold countries; it's massively agglutinative, which separates it even from Hungarian (its only relative, and how that transfer happened I'd like to know...). The Norwegian-Swedish interactions are ... interesting; I remember (from a 1990 trip) a Norwegian "explaining" that the airline's initials stood for "Sweden! always Sweden!" -- but a tour guide at the Kon-Tiki museum spoke of -"that one poor Swede stuck on a raft with six(?) crazy Norwegians"-.

They probably both think the Danes are frivolous; the Norwegians have Ibsen (and even gloomier prose writers), the Swedes have Strindberg, and the Danes have ... Hans Christian Anderson? (Counterexamples welcome.) Not to mention the Tuborg brewery sign big enough to be seen across the Kattegat. You can see the extremes in the Resistance museums; the Norwegian is an Experience (starting with a metal sculpture of papers on a bayonet, in the midst of gloomy passageways underneath Oslo castle), while the Danish is laid out matter-of-fact-ly in a building that could be a church hall if it had fewer windows.

#83 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 10:08 AM:

CHip, the Hungarian language isn't the "only relative" of Finnish. Just to start with, there are Estonian and Karelian, both spoken and written by large numbers of people; in addition, there's a bunch of minor languages spoken in parts of Central Asia, Siberia, and Mongolia.

#84 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 02:49 PM:

CHip, Hans Christian Andersen - he's not Swedish after all. And he might have written fairie tales, but there was enough gloom and doom in him (and his dairies) to make up for a bunch of Ibsens and Strindbergs.
Also, the Danes have Kierkegaard and Bohr, and that gotta count for something.

#85 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 08:42 PM:

Thanks for the corrective info. I'll also note that \somebody/ local thinks (or at least thought 25 years ago) that Denmark is part of Scandinavia; I heard that parties at Seacon '79 were subject to sudden invasions of bidders for Copenhagen in '83, who would appear suddenly, scream "Scandinavia!", then run off looking for another party to harass. (I was there; I just never saw them -- which was just as well after I'd had to deal with their masquerade entry.)

#86 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2005, 08:59 PM:

My morfa is Danish and this year's Christmas Eve, we plan to celebrate Danish. We dance around a tree singing old Danish songs and plan to dress in Danish folk costumes. We are planning to serve risengrot for the julnisse, or the Christmas elf that is at the heart of Danish folklore. He is said to clean the house and hate dirt, but if you forget to leave a pan of milk or porridge ot for him, he will become mischevious. Also , we are making danish flags and straw goats known as julboks. So that is the way we do our christmas....anyone do it the same wayt?

#87 ::: Maureen Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2005, 04:41 PM:

My husband has a Swedish great grandma who came to Butte Valley in Northern California in 1870. He reminds me a lot of Thor, because he is big, with big blue eyes and he has a red beard. He was missing his hammer for many weeks, and would say, "Where's my hammer?" really loud and scary like. I finally found his hammer underneath my daughter's bunk bed.

#88 ::: M. Nissen ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 01:30 AM:

Does someone here know the connection between the mythology of the nissen, and the fact that some people have it as their actual surname?

#89 ::: Nancy C. Mittens sees weird message on ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 01:11 PM:

Nordic tango spam
I suspect. I wonder do
Norwegians tango?

#90 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 01:34 PM:

OK, I have a pudding question here: does your recipe start with raw or cooked rice?

The reason I ask is that my mother has a bunch of versions of relatively common things that don't seem to be much like anyone else's. Her rice pudding, for instance, starts with (generally leftover) cooked rice. Is this as unusual as it seems to me?

#91 ::: Xopher sees that good grief, Nancy's right, that IS Norwegian tango spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 01:40 PM:

That's extremely odd.

#92 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 07:22 AM:

Sultry Norwegians,
creatures of far-out fancy,
dance at midwinter.

#93 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 09:52 AM:

The Norwegian Tango Song
(tune by T. Lehrer)

I yearn for the touch of your kiss, dear
But much more for the sound of your skis, dear
You light up the dark
With a deft telemark
As we dance to the Norwegian Tango.

As the winter day dims and turns dusky
To the howls of a solit'ry husky
It's as though the aurora
Was made specially for ya -
It seems that you glow as you tango.

I am your mate!
Don't make me stand and wait!
Just call me as I skate
Upon these frozen fjords...

I am in pain, dear!
You're driving me insane, dear!
I wander like (yes, you've guessed it)
In their Siberian hordes...

I remember when we met (in Bergen)
You just smiled and you wished me "god morgen",
But there isn't a chap
Between here and Nordkapp
More in love than I am when we tango.

#94 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:03 AM:

C. Wingate -

My rice pudding recipe starts with leftover, cooked rice. Since it's from "Joy of Cooking," and all their variants involve cooked rice, I can't imagine that's unusual.

What recipe do you have that starts with raw rice?

#95 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:13 AM:

Juli #95: One that starts with pudding rice, I'd imagine - a variety that is more like arborio risotto rice, and which produces creamy starch. The idea of using cooked rice for rice pudding just seems wrong to me; in my kitchen, leftover rice is usually pilau or some other savoury dish.

#96 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:13 AM:

Juli #95: One that starts with pudding rice, I'd imagine - a variety that is more like arborio risotto rice, and which produces creamy starch. The idea of using cooked rice for rice pudding just seems wrong to me; in my kitchen, leftover rice is usually pilau or some other savoury dish.

#97 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2007, 10:24 AM:

**Applause for ajay!**

#98 ::: Alexis Haakon ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2009, 11:38 AM:

The rice porridge served before the meal was in olden days a way to fill up the stomach because there was not enough to eat. It's called risengroed in Danish. Far different from the elegant Ris Alamand dessert -served after dinner - with whipped cream folded in and minced almonds, served with raspberry or another fruit sauce, usually hot. One whole brown almond was stirred in and the person who got that in his bowl won a marzipan pig or some other prize. Glaedlig Jul!

#99 ::: Cadbury Moose sees linkspam on ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 06:04 PM:

#100 looks spamish to this moose.

#100 ::: Naomi Parkhurst sees possible tourism spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 06:05 PM:

one comment in post history; link to commercial travel site.

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