Festive Foods

The Swedish Club Welcomes Winter with a Smorgasbord

In the Swedish tradition, the table will be piled high with food—the kind a Scandinavian grandmother might make.

By Jane Kidder December 7, 2016

This latest in a series of pieces examining other countries’ holiday food traditions, and their presence in Seattle.

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If you made all this food, you'd want a photo, too. Image via Kristine Leander.

As Kristine Leander from Seattle’s Swedish Club tells it, Scandinavian holiday traditions often arose from dark times, when fears of an endless winter ran high. Unable to afford feed through the grueling cold snap, farmers living in rural settings slaughtered their animals. And thus the work for the year was done. In this winter solstice season, the farmers brewed a Christmas beer, laid out a spread of hearty food, hung a sheath of wheat for the birds—the small animals of the farm were said to ensure a bountiful harvest—and prayed for the sun to return.

Seattle's version of this Scandinavian holiday celebration doesn’t commence with an animal sacrifice (thankfully), but Queen Anne's Swedish Club nods to these humble beginnings this Friday, December 9, when the nonprofit organization hosts its annual Julbord lunch ($50) and dinner ($65) where in-house Swedish chefs Ann-Margaret Lightle and Malin Jonsson pile the table with food that’s “as traditional as you can get.” And by the way, it’s not a Scandinavians-only clubhouse. Anyone is welcome—from Swedish immigrants to curious members of the community—to stop by for a bit of brown cabbage and pickled herring.

At these mid-winter smorgasbords, find only the food that a Scandinavian grandmother would make: braunsweiger sausage, gravlax, rice pudding, a potato and anchovy casserole, aka Jansson’s temptation. And naturally, meatballs. All the meatballs.

This year’s repast will be accompanied by a special Lucia pageant, yet another longstanding Swedish tradition. Lucia, a fourth-century saint brought food to the Christians living in caves and to carry more plentiful sustenance, strapped a torch to her head. A well-seasoned Lucia actress will travel all the way from Grums, Sweden to perform, donning a crown of candles ablaze and followed by a line of carolers in flowing gowns. Though Lucia day officially falls on December 13, “they’re both very Swedish things,” says Leander. And what better way to brighten the darkest month of the year than with an abundance of Swedish festivities? Whether of Swedish blood or just a curious neighbor, all are welcome to gather ‘round the table, but reserve your spots soon because those meatballs are in high demand.

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