Sunday, November 29, 2009

Första Advent

Jennifer Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and it has come none to soon to a city of people who could really use some cheering up. The darkness is closing in, and the weather has been miserable; even the older, more stoic Swedes of my acquaintance have admitted finally that this has been one of the worst Novembers they remember. But of course this is Sweden, and no one will dare to put up the cheerful jul lights and decorations until Advent. (No one here is religious, but no one will go against tradition either. In the workplace, the Friday before Advent is close enough, so my department decorations went up a little early.) We brought our jul things out around noon, and I was reminded that no holiday is complete without some annoying item that requires assembly—getting these paper advent stars properly bent into shape around a light bulb is enough to make a saint swear. Anyway, we had the tree up and decorated, and all the other decorations up in an hour or so.

Then it was off to town, and the Julmarknad, with people selling jul-stuff from stalls—pine wreaths and boughs and bunches of mistletoe. Other stalls were selling home-made julklappar, like home-knit socks and hats, hand carved pop-guns and animal figurines, jams and preserved fruit, honey, special goat cheese from one of the local dairies... there were also tables of charities giving out cookies and selling hot dogs, and other vendors selling candy and ice cream. We got our traditional stektströmming och potatismos med lingon from the fancy restaurant, a bargain at 45 SEK.

Then we walked up the hill to the castle to watch the fireworks (start time at kl. 16.30, by which time it has been safely dark for an hour at least), which are set off from the Botanical Garden. They have fireworks every year on first advent, but this was the 20th year in a row that the local newspaper was sponsoring them, so it was advertised that this year's display would be quite special. Did I mention that the weather has been bad? Well, it would have been much worse for spectators if it were raining hard, but I can only imagine that the fireworks engineers were frantically discussing whether to carry on, on account of the fog we had all day, and which was getting noticeable worse as the evening cooled off. They went ahead with the show, and it was very good indeed, though some of the higher mortars were quite lost in the murk. They coordinated everything to music—the first was something classical that I can't remember, than a catchy pop tune from last year, then finished off with "It's Raining Men," which struck me as funny, especially when the 6-year-olds behind us started singing along to the chorus. The finale included a long row of short-height magnesium stars that lit the place up almost like real daylight for a few glorious seconds, and was probably the highest number of bursts I have seen in the sky simultaneously. Even the Swedes hooted and hollered in appreciation. A fine end to a quite lovely day. Happy Advent, everyone!

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