Skansen: A Christmas Market in Stockholm
Dave wiggled into long johns, and I covered my hands with touchscreen gloves. It was the morning of Advent Sunday, and we were in Sweden for the celebration of our 25-year anniversary, and in honor of our Scandinavian heritage. We pulled on leather boots to finish our layers and whisked out the door to Stockholm’s nearby metro station. The directions to Skansen—the world’s first open-air museum and Christmas market—were highlighted on Dave’s cellphone screen, and we stopped to study them.
Electric Advent candles—usually in the number of four to nine, supported by inverted wood triangles—and sizable, nine-pointed stars glowed from the windows of several homes. The irradiation of light captured my attention. I stabilized my footing on ice and thought I need to buy one of those Christmas stars before I leave. Days later, in Gamla Stan, I would purchase a cardinal-colored cardboard star with a printed pattern of snowflakes.
Fifty minutes passed. The public tram arrived at Skansen. A plethora of different people waited in multiple lines for admission. We chose one and stood at the end. Dave reached into his coat pocket for a tight, raven-colored, ski cap. He shivered and pulled it onto his head. “Is the spider straight?” He asked.
“No,” I said, as I reached up and straightened the hat. Dave stood still, and in a few seconds, his attention diverted to a Swedish girl of toddler age who played next to us. He studied her clothing. "Look how all the children have one-piece snowsuits and winter boots to keep them warm,” he said.
A wisp of hair tickled my jaw, and I brushed it away. "I know. And all of the edges of the children's hoods are lined with fur.”
The girl’s short, raven hair swished along her cut cheekbones and highlighted a tiny, upturned nose. She climbed onto a nearby bench, which wrapped around a tree trunk. Her father stood at her side and allowed her the freedom to explore. I resisted the urge to reach out and support her back as she balanced on the bench’s icy seat while the ticket line moved forward.
When we entered the grounds of Skansen, we found a rambled mixture of provincial farm buildings with multi-colored metal roofs and sides wrapped in weathered, wood planks. Inside the homes and shops, historical interpreters in period clothing mimicked a rural Sweden from the past. Our first stop was the glassmith's workshop. Children's covered heads bopped up and down behind a safety wall to watch the formation of a molten-glass Santa. I raised my heels and shot my camera over their round heads.
Mid-morning came and went as we strolled to the blacksmith's shop, the bakery, the furniture maker, and the book binder's room. Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries filled our plates at lunch. After, melodic lyrics summoned us to Skansen’s Christmas market where a robust band projected Yuletide ditties. Our fingers weaved around visiting stranger's, and we formed a skipping ring-circle around a tall Fir tree. Strands of white lights ran vertically along its branches, and a simple star adorned its top. Children danced and raised their hands as reindeer antlers on their heads. Adults joined them.
Nearby, shoppers flitted from stall to stall around the market. Outdoor fire pits warmed bodies, and bonfire smoke, and mixed with the roasted aroma of sugar-coated almonds. Long, vintage coats made of a wolf's fur covered male merchants. Wool coats and fingerless gloves warmed the women. Folk costuming in brilliant greens and reds appeared from under their winter wardrobe. Swedish words bounced around and were unfamiliar to us, but the joyful celebration of Christmas was universal.
Scandinavian Christmas celebrations are rooted in the paganism of the Old Norse. Many of their holiday symbols stem from these roots. The Yule goat may be connected to the Norse god, Thor, who circumnavigated his chariot through the sky by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. These straw goats bedecked the market.
A legion of handcrafted gnomes—another holiday symbol of Sweden—crowded a stall at the end. Rounded torsos made of wood, and wrapped in white felt, steadied the creatures. Long, snow-white beards—like soft cotton—extended from red cones glued to rounded heads. Pipe cleaners protruded as legs into a pair of miniature wooden clogs. We approached the woman selling the gnomes, asked her price, and purchased two. She wrapped the gnome in a delicate, bone-white tissue paper and we waited. Dave picked up a dwarfish creature near him and studied the artistry. He said, "Did you make these?"
She smiled and answered in English. "Yes."
"You did a good job,” he said.
A flash of pride crossed her face. "Tack," she said and placed our purchase in a small, brown bag. On the front of the bag was a stamped heart with the words, "God Jul."