Lucia and her buns

What is Lucia?

In this blog post, we’ll look at the Swedish lucia tradition, why Swedes celebrate an Italian saint, and we’ll also look at the traditional Lucia buns that are served at this time of the year. You’ll also get a free Lucia bun recipe, both in Swedish AND in English (so you can learn some new baking vocab while making your own!

The Swedish Lucia Tradition

Next week, on the 13 December, Sweden celebrates Lucia. The annual candlelit Lucia procession is maybe one of the more exotic-looking Swedish customs, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together.

The tradition is that Lucia wears ‘light in her hair’, which means a crown of candles in a wreath on her head. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle, too. Many people nowadays taking part, especially younger children, use battery-powered candles. But there is still a special atmosphere when the lights are dimmed and the sound of singing grows as they enter the room. Parents gather in the dark with their mobile cameras ready. The star boys carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads, and are also dressed in white gowns.

The History of Lucia

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to Saint Lucia of Syracuse, Italy. Saint Lucia was a Christian martyr who died in 304. But the tradition can also be traced to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. According to the legend, she consorted with the Devil and her children were invisible devils. The name Lucia can be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and it’s difficult to know the exact origins. What you can see in Sweden today is a mixture of traditions.

In the old calendar, Lucia Night was the longest night of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak (yep, we did really believe this). By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were told to eat seven or nine (!) large breakfasts.

Before industrial times, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.

The first recorded appearance of a Lucia dressed in white in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The tradition did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar-custom disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful shenanigans of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The tradition of a Lucia serving coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.

The Lucia Buns

Lussebullar, or Lussekatter, are traditional saffron buns that Swedes eat during this time of the year. Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled up cat (hence why some call them Lussekatter), and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats).

Would you like to have a go at making your own Lucia Buns? Click here to download a free recipe.

Here are some other useful tips about the Lucia Buns

• Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.

• Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so if you want them freshly made on the day, you could prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm (food wrap) and store in a fridge overnight.

• For a little more flavour, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavour of the buns.

• As saffron buns can dry out very easily take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right colour, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth. Another thing that you can add to the dough to make the buns less dry, is Quark or Greek Yoghurt.

• Lussekatter are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting (but be very careful not to overheat them). You can also warm them in the oven on low heat (but again, be careful they don’t dry out too much).

• Many Swedes like to drink glögg with their Lucia Buns. There is glögg with alcohol available to buy from Systembolaget, but also alcohol free in most food shops.

Download a free recipe for Lussebullar here

Alla Helgons Dag

Alla Helgons Dag – a day for reflection

While Halloween celebrators have a lie in and maybe sleep off their hangover on 1st of November, many Swedes take to cemeteries at dusk to light candles on graves and reflect on loved ones they have lost, while strolling through the crisp autumnal landscapes.

Photo by Holger Motzkau

Origins of Alla Helgons Dag

According to sweden.se, in the year 731 AD, 1 November was designated a day of remembrance for saints of the church who had no days of their own. From the 11th century, 2 November was dedicated to all the dead, of whatever standing, and was called All Souls’ Day. It was widely observed by the populace, with requiems and bell-ringing, but was abolished with the arrival of the Reformation. In 1772, All Saints’ Day in Sweden was moved to the first Sunday in November and in 1953 to the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November.

In the 1900s, however, people began putting lit candles on the graves of the departed on All Saints’ Day. This custom originated with wealthy families in towns and cities. But after the World War II, it spread throughout the country. Churches also began holding services of light to mark the day.

In the north of Sweden, All Saints’ Day marks the first day of winter and the traditional start of the alpine ski season. Until recently, shops and stores were closed to mark the occasion. Although this is no longer the case everywhere, many Swedes take the day off. Those who don’t visit cemeteries usually stay at home with the family and cook something together. Many churches organise concerts to celebrate All Saints’ Day.

Where to see Alla Helgons Dag

Any cemetery will be beautiful to stroll through at dusk (make sure to check what time the sun sets).

If you happen to be in Stockholm, you might want to go and visit Skogskyrkogården. It is a very large cemetery just south of Stockholm, and it is also a UNSECO World Heritage site. It is easily accessible on the metro, green line number 18 towards Farsta or Farsta strand. The stop is called Skogskyrkogården.

 

 

5 ways to stay motivated

One of the most difficult aspects of learning a language is keeping up your motivation. So many of my students go through patches of lacking in motivation, and when you do it is easy to fall out of routine altogether, coming up with reasons not to learn (too much on at work, not enough time, etc), and the learning process might even grind to a halt completely.

In this blog post, I wanted to talk a bit about motivation and give you some hands on tips on how to stay motivated.

 

Internal vs external motivation

Internal motivation is basically enjoyment. It is the satisfaction of making progress, enjoying the learning journey, feeling curious and open, enjoying learning new pieces of information, feeling satisfied when understanding something tricky.

External motivation is some kind of reward, which could be real or symbolic. It could be achieving good results in a test, it might be the prestige in being fluent, or the rewards in being able to communicate with extended family and friends perhaps. The issue with external motivation is that it can lead to a situation where learners are learning even though they don’t actually enjoy it. It is therefore better to focus mainly on making sure your internal motivation is nice and strong!

How can we work on our internal motivation?

1. Make positive associations

Connect Swedish with your other interests. If you like politics, read the news headlines on dn.se or svd.se. Now is a particularly interesting time in Swedish politics, following the general election. Are you interested in history? Look into the history of Sweden. Like baking? Learn how to bake cinnamon buns, and translate a recipe from Swe to Eng. If you like music, research music with Swedish lyrics and try and translate them, and of course – sing along! I have a playlist on Spotify that you can have a look at: http://open.spotify.com/user/browwn/playlist/1ielXWVCjGa7cvYad7xWPc

Also try and associate learning Swedish with your favourite activities and places. Put a Swedish podcast on when you’re running, for example. Watch movies and tv series in Swedish. Look at youtube for Swedish clips. Go to sr.se (Swedish radio) and listen live or download a podcast. The channel P1 is news, current affairs, debates and culture. P2 is classical and jazz music. P3 is pop music and programmes for a younger audience. P4 is local radio stations. It’s worth checking out the programme Klartext, which is a daily news bulletin in easier Swedish (shorter sentences, reduced vocab). There is also a brilliant app for smartphones, called SR Play.

2. Don’t give up

You need a holistic and realistic view of the learning process. Many language learners start out with high hopes for achieving fluency fast, but their enthusiasm quickly dips when they find themselves making the same mistakes again and again, and maybe speak in an (often self-perceived) embarrassing accent.

This is definitely not the time to throw in the towel and admit defeat! These errors are 100% normal and actually a part of the progress. It is therefore EXTREMELY important to remember this:

Language-learning errors are not a negative reflection on your intelligence!

Instead, learn to love your errors. They are your friends, they bring you step by step closer to fluency and confidence. Smile, and learn from them.

3. Remember why you started

Was it to be able to speak more with colleagues at work? Or with your in-laws? Or to be able to at some point move to Sweden? Or to be able to speak like Saga Noren in The Bridge, just because it’s a cool thing to be able to do? Or because it’s cooler and more unusual than just learning Spanish or Mandarin?

Remind yourself now, maybe even write yourself a little e-mail to yourself with  http://m.futureme.org/ to remind yourself in 6 month’s time.

4. Explore ways to monitor progress

The thing with learning in general, is that it’s hard to sense progress. This is because of something I call “Moving Goal Posts”. Just as you have mastered one grammatical aspect and feel quite pleased about that, you turn a page and realise a whole damn new section that you didn’t even know before! The goal post is constantly moving. As Einstein himself said: “the more I learn the more I realise how little I know”. This is completely as it should be, it’s part of learning.

However, what is worth doing, is to capture your level at certain points, so you have something to compare with. If you are following some kind of course, this will probably be included anyway. Writing exercises that you can look back at in 3 months time. Why not make a short audio recording on your mobile phone or computer? No one needs to know, but you can go back in a year’s time and see how much you have progressed.

5. Consider not having a schedule

I know it may seem sloppy or disorganised somehow in our society to not have a schedule, we are extremely goal oriented as a society. The problem is that having a too strict schedule can make learning a language into a chore. Chores = boring = less internal motivation and less likelihood to succeed.

Learning a language is a bit like going to the gym. You won’t notice immediate effect, and you’ll have good days and bad days. You can’t just work out like mad for 6 months and then go couch potato for 2 years and expect the same level of fitness throughout. But if you work on it regularly, you will notice a difference over weeks and months. Expecting quick improvements is to expect too much from your brain, it’s simply unrealistic. Learning a language is more like a marathon than a sprint, and remember that a flood is made up of raindrops!

Some more useful tips:

  • svt.se (Swedish television, some programmes are available outside of Sweden)
  • TV4play and Kanal5play for smartphones
  • 8sidor.se (notice especially their “Lyssna” feature in the left-hand side menu)

Fancy booking lessons? https://swedishmadeeasy.com/book-a-lesson/

Quick guide to Swedish weddings

Swedish wedding traditions

It’s summer in Sweden and that often means wedding season. In some ways, Swedish bröllop weddings can be quite different to weddings in other countries. So here’s your quick guide to Swedish traditions!

1. Bruden the bride and brudgummen the groom walk up the aisle together at the beginning of the ceremony. A bride walking in with her father is considered quite old-fashioned, and the Swedes don’t really like the idea of a woman being owned by a man. Therefore, it is quite common for the couple to walk in side by side.

2. Sometimes there is no maid of honour or best man. Some do have one or two brudtärnor bridesmaids, though, and perhaps a couple of marskalkar groomsmen.

3. At the reception, if lots of people tap their glasses, it doesn’t mean they want to make speeches.It means they want the bride and groom to kiss.

4. But you won’t go without speeches. Toastmasters will introduce each speech at the reception. All ten or twelve of them…

5. You’ll often receive a booklet at the reception with details about each guest, plus some fun bits about the couple, and song lyrics.

6. What happens on tour may not stay on tour. Because the hens and the stags will be giving a speech about each trip, and photos can (should?) be involved!

7. There will be songs. But don’t worry, there will be alcohol too!

8. There will be games. Mostly poking fun at the bride and groom. Audience participation (if only in the form of cheering) is mandatory.

9. Do not be alarmed if the bride and groom leave the room. If the bride leaves the room during the reception meal, all the women in the room must run up to the groom and kiss him on the cheek (just the cheek, please!). Ditto if the groom leaves the room, all the men must kiss the bride.

 

30 days until launch of Complete Swedish

In 30 days time, the brand new version of Teach Yourself Complete Swedish that I have been writing the past few years will finally be published (yay!).

Do you want to develop a solid understanding of Swedish and communicate confidently with others?
Through authentic conversations, vocabulary building, grammar explanations and extensive practice and review, Complete Swedish will equip you with the skills you need to use Swedish in a variety of settings and situations, developing your cultural awareness along the way. The book follows several characters through a storyline enabling learners to engage with Swedish culture and contextualise their learning.

What will I achieve by the end of the course?
By the end of Complete Swedish you will have a solid intermediate-level grounding in the four key skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – and be able to communicate with confidence and accuracy. You will be able to engage with relevant and up-to-date topics, including politics, education, gender equality and popular entertainment in Sweden.

Is this course for me?
If you want to move confidently from beginner to intermediate level, this is the course for you. It’s perfect for the self-study learner, with a one-to-one tutor, or for the beginner classroom. It can be used as a refresher course as well as to support study for the ‘Swedex‘ Swedish proficiency test.

What do I get?
-20 learning units plus verb reference and word glossary 
-Discovery Method – figure out rules and patterns to make the language stick
-Teaches the key skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking
-Learn to learn – tips and skills on how to be a better language learner
-Culture notes – learn about the people and places of Sweden
-Outcomes-based learning – focus your studies with clear aims
-Authentic listening activities – everyday conversations give you a flavour of real spoken Swedish
-Test Yourself – see and track your own progress

*Complete Swedish maps from A1 Beginner to B2 Upper Intermediate level of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) guidelines and from Novice-Low to Advanced-Mid level of the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) proficiency guidelines.

The audio for this course can be downloaded from the Teach Yourself Library app or streamed at library.teachyourself.com.

 

Astrid Lindgren läser sagor på Spotify

Astrid Lindgren’s own readings of some of her most-loved stories are available on Spotify. Listen to Astrid herself reading her stories.

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The following stories are available:

Nils Karlsson-Pyssling a boy the size of a thumb who lives under the boy Bertil's bed

Nils Karlsson-Pyssling a boy the size of a thumb who lives under the boy Bertil’s bed

Ronja, a girl who grows up among a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands of early-Medieval Scandinavia

Ronja, a girl who grows up among a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands of early-Medieval Scandinavia

Bröderna Lejonhjärta, the story of two brothers who fight tyranny, death and disease, but it is also a story of loyalty, hope, courage and pacifism.

Bröderna Lejonhjärta, the story of two brothers who fight tyranny, death and disease, but it is also a story of loyalty, hope, courage and pacifism.

Madicken, a 7 year-old middle-class girl growing up in  Sweden during World War I.

Madicken, a 7 year-old middle-class girl growing up in Sweden during World War I.

Mio min mio, the story about the adopted boy Bosse who finds a genie in a bottle who whisks him off to another land where his real father is the king.

Mio min mio, the story about the adopted boy Bosse who finds a genie in a bottle who whisks him off to another land where his real father is the king.

Emil, the story of the little naughty but resourceful boy who lives on a farm in Småland.

Emil, the story of the naughty but resourceful boy who lives on a farm in Småland.

Rasmus, the boy who runs away from an orphanage and meets the tramp Oskar.

Rasmus, the boy who runs away from an orphanage and meets the tramp Oskar.

There is also some interviews with Astrid about her life as an author and her books.

An absolute treasure! What are you waiting for? 🙂

Lucia – classic Swedish tradition, or sexist popularity contest?

Today, many Swedish schools will celebrate Lucia. Well-known as a a very typical tradition in Sweden, the day (which is actually the 13th of Dec) commemorates Saint Lucy – a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution. But as the date is also close to winter solstice it has become a festival of light.

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However, lately the tradition has frequently become a matter of debate. Traditionally, lucia has always been a girl and only girls have been allowed to take part in the lucia election process, but in several Swedish schools in recent years this has been challenged. This year, several boys have been allowed to be lucia.

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There has also been debates around the lucia election process itself. Lucias are chosen on school level, county level and national level. Traditionally, a lucia would be chosen through voting. In my old high school, each class would present two candidates and photos of all the girls would be put up in a communal school area for everyone to vote.

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This often turned into a very fierce popularity contest, with very narrowly defined criteria for what lucia should look like. This also often meant that girls who were perceived as not fitting the “lucia stereotype” look were ridiculed. I remember girls who were chosen deliberately by their class because they did not fit the stereotype, and so became bullied and ridiculed when their photo was published. I also remember girls who did have the classic “lucia look” but were not particularly popular in class, and how upset they were not to be chosen as candidates.

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Above is my first Lucia at nursery – yep, that’s shorty me to the right. At nursery, all girls were allowed to be lucia if they wanted. It was only later on (around the age of 12-13), that the voting element was introduced where I went to school. 

More recently, several students and other activists have started to criticise the popularity element in the lucia election process, and have pointed out that it seems old fashioned. Perhaps the lucia tradition is falling out of fashion? A bit like the Miss Universe contests in recent years, something harking back to a different era where beauty contents for women were common.

Some schools have responded by changing the election to a draw, thereby trying to remove the element of popularity contest. There are also reports that some counties in Sweden struggle to even find candidates who are interested in participating.

In November, Svenska Dagbladet debated this issue online, and some of the opinions were:

– “Skip Lucia in schools but keep the tradition on national level”

– “Introduce draws instead of voting for candidates”

– “Lucia is a classic tradition, which we should not simply remove because to the “Politically Correct Mafia” have issues with it”

– “Typically Swedish to remove good old traditions”

– “I don’t understand what criteria I should use to vote? I don’t know the girls so I can only go on their looks. Feels very old fashioned”

– “Can’t really see the connection between a cute blonde Swedish girl and an Italian Christian martyr”

– “The tradition contributes to several sexist structures – boys are excluded and girls are selected based on their looks” 

What do you think? Is Lucia an old tradition worth keeping, or should it be a thing of the past? Or should some elements of the tradition be updated and modified?

The Lucia song, English translation:

The night stalks with heavy treads
around the homestead and cottage
Around the earth forsaken by the sun
the shadows brood
Then, in[to] our dark house
strides with candles lit
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

The night was large and silent
Now, listen, it’s swishing
in all the quiet rooms
soughing as if by wings
See, at our doorstep stands
clad in white with lights in [her] hair
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

The dark shall soon flee
from the dells of the earth
So she a wonderful
word to us speaks
The day shall again, new made
rise from a rosy sky
Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy

Svenska:

Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuva
Kring jord som soln förlät
skuggorna ruva
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiger med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Natten var stor och stum.
Nu, hör, det svingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar
Se, på vår tröskel står
vitklädd med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Mörkret skall flykta snart
ur jordens dalar
Så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia