Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Knut's Day

JoeYesterday was St. Knut's Day here in Sweden, named after King Knut IV of Denmark (r. 1080–1086). More popularly known in English circles as Canute (but not to be confused with his great uncle, Canute the Great, who famously commanded the tides to stop), Knut is now mostly remembered for his death: he was cut down in a church, while assembling a large invasion fleet of England. The first part of that earned him sainthood; the second marked the end of the Viking Age.

For our purposes, though, Knut's legacy is this: he declared that Christmas should last for 20 days. As he was the King of Denmark, his proclamation is quite rightly upheld only in Sweden and Finland. And so, in Sweden 13 January is marked by the annual julgransplundring, in which the Christmas tree is stripped, the ornaments devoured, and all the other trappings of the Jul season are put away. Not knowing in advance that we were expected to eat our Christmas tree, we had, alas, gotten the inedible variety this year. I decided to make up for our lack of foresight, and at the same time to remember Knut, by doing the most Danish thing I know how to do: I made Danish pastry. Almond bear claws, to be precise. Neither of us could face the end of the julmust (which has been rather ominously lurking on the top shelf of the fridge for the better part of a week now—and no matter how it may seem at Easter, julmust is not actually improved by going flat), so we just sipped cocoa, ate pastry, and packed away our Christmas decorations.

Do Swedes actually all take down their decorations on the same day? Today I would have to say that most evidence points to yes. The outdoor Christmas trees at our apartment and Jennifer's office both came down, and today the vast majority of paper stars and jul lamps are gone from the apartment windows all over town. What's more, the huge stacks of unconsumed julmust in the grocery stores have vanished, no doubt all of it en route to a bottling plant to be relabeled as påskmust. Maybe I'll be able to face another glass by then, though I can't say I'm all that sanguine about the prospect just at the moment.

So long, Christmas 2008. Hello, salads.

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