Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's a Scandinavian thing ... you might not understand


My oldest daughter has recently been very interested in her Danish heritage. She's recently discovered a series of comics called Scandinavia and the World and they are hilarious ... if you're Scandinavian. If not, they might seem downright weird. Think of it as Japanese Manga art meets lutefisk (and if you have to ask what lutefisk is ... well ... check this description and you'll know what to avoid).

The comic above depicts the Pope discovering Denmark, Sweden and Norway observing Christmas with an array of bizarre traditions. The goat costumes are the Julebukke or Christmas goat which is usually made of straw (like this one here). This is one of those pagan rituals which had a bit of holy water sprinkled on it to legitimize it when Christianity swept through Scandinavia. The candle lit wreaths on their heads depict the St. Lucia tradition which began in Sweden but spread throughout Scandinavia. The Christmas tree (which has pagan roots) is covered with the flags of the Scandinavian countries. This tradition came from the time when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis and it was illegal to display the Danish flag - so putting a string of them on the Christmas tree was a subversive way to show their resistance. The poor Pope has no idea what to make of all this!

If you live in the US, chances are good your ancestors came from somewhere else just like mine did. In coming over, there was a strong desire to assimilate so we could "be American." In that process, we all gave up something which was a part of who we are - language, dress, customs. In a time where the world is getting smaller and we are becoming an ever increasingly pluralistic society, it would do us all well to remember where we came from and what we gave up in that journey ... and even reclaim some of what we lost.

Fortunately for me, my Danish heritage does not include reclaiming lutefisk. Gl├Ždelig jul!

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