After all the dreadful deadlines for end-of-semester school assignments and projects, winter break is finally here! As cliche as it may sound, Christmas holiday is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s my most favorite season and it’s what I look forward to every year. And of course, being that I’m currently abroad, I had the privilege of experiencing what Christmas (and New Years celebration) is like in Europe. Specifically, in Sweden and The Netherlands.
Christmas in Sweden
Similarly to Christmas in the States, a large part of how Christmas is spent here is through making food and eating them. Something traditional that’s only enjoyed during Christmas holiday is a drink called glögg. It’s basically spiced wine (or grape juice) and different European countries seem to have their own version of this drink. In Sweden, this drink is often mixed with raisins and some type of nut. They’re often served tiny, tiny cups too! The reason for this, as a Swede explained to me, is so that they can be enjoyed in smaller quantities and in many times. The drink is also served warm so it’s perfect for cozying up in the winter weather! I had my first glögg a week before Christmas, it was very good! I liked it so much I brought a bottle from the grocery store and carried it to The Netherlands to share it with my friends and family.
Other traditional foods include rice pudding, which I don’t know what they’re called in Swedish. They’re sweet rice-porridge looking dish topped with crushed cinnamon and milk. Super sweet! There are probably many other Christmas related foods here in Sweden however, these were served in the home of a Swede couple who kindly invited me over to join and eat.
Aside from food, Christmas market is also a big thing in Europe, more so in Germany than anywhere else. I had the chance to visit, not one, but two different Christmas markets in Sweden; one in Gamla Stan Stockholm and the other in Sigtuna, north of Uppsala. Prior to this, I had no knowledge of what a Christmas market is. But it is as its name implies, a market that sells Christmas-related items. They’re often more expensive than regular price but if you look around closely, there are some really good deals too. The market in Sigtuna also had a Lucia parade where many young children held candles and sang the traditional Lucia song.
Christmas in The Netherlands
After five months of separation from my family, we were finally reunited during the Christmas holidays in Amsterdam! As much as I loved the experience of study abroad, it felt so great to be back in the comfort zone with my family. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed them until I was in their company again! We stayed at the home of my mother’s closest friend and mentor, who I refer to as my aunty. She’s a California-raised lady so we cooked up an American-style Christmas dinner to enjoy with her Dutch friends. A massive turkey, mash potatoes, gravy, cranberry salad, stuffings, string beans and bacon, etc. It felt so great to be back in familiar environment!
During my stay in Amsterdam, I also got to taste many dutch foods, one of my favorites being the frites or fried potatoes. Some of the non-Christmas related foods I had were the dutch pancakes and pea soup. The Swedes also have their own version of pea soup that varies within region but I must say I like the dutch version better just because it had bacon in it. And the pancakes! They were thin and flat but MASSIVE! And delicious too! I’d definitely recommend anyone who’s visiting Amsterdam to add pancakes to your list of foods-to-try.
Before I end, I want to mention a noteworthy New Years traditional dutch snack. It’s called Olieol which directly translates to “oil ball”. Doesn’t sound appetizing by the name of it but it’s so good! It’s a type of fried donut except that it’s not in the conventional “O” shape. The olliebol is literally a fried ball of …flour? Often times the dough is mixed with raisins and apples. After frying them into ball shapes, they’re sprinkled with sugar-powder for finishing touches. These only come during New Years season so I felt very fortunate to come at such a great timing.
Overall, I’m very glad I chose to study abroad in Europe during the Christmas season. I was able to experience a little bit of Christmas tradition from two different cultures. It was definitely strange to have glögg or pea soup as ‘traditional’ winter/Christmas food. However, it was great to see how the holiday is viewed and what it meant to the Swedes (referring to the last blog post on Lucia). Just being able to explore the continent with my family and to enjoy home-cooked meal again was so great. It’ll be a first white winter Christmas that I will never forget :)
Happy 2019, everyone!