When Christmas cultures collide
When Christmas cultures collide
Kalle Anka, Donald Duck. Copyright: Walt Disney Company.

When Christmas cultures collide

Rehana Lothian talks to three cross-cultural, international Skellefteå couples about their experiences of Christmas in Norrland. There’s that duck again!

When Christmas cultures collide
Lorena and Giovani

Lorena and Giovani

(Lorena from Peru and Giovani from Italy)

RH: Where do you normally spend Christmas?

G: We have celebrated it in my hometown in northern Italy, with Lorena’s family in Peru and in Skellefteå. This year we will be here in Skellefteå.

RH: How are you going to celebrate Christmas? With Swedish traditions and food, Italian, Peruvian?

L: It will be a real mix of Swedish, Italian and Peruvian traditions. Previously we have had friends from Sweden and Philippines here also, so we really do a bit of everything. We’ll cook a turkey, with Italian side dishes, followed by rice pudding and panettone.

RH: What’s unique about Italian and Peruvian Xmas? Tell me about your traditions.

L: In Peru, we eat chocolate, panettone and turkey. We go to midnight mass and early morning mass.

G: In Italy, we have quite similar traditions; we also go to midnight mass. The family advent scene becomes a focal point in the room and we’ve added pieces to it over the years. Most families have one.

Perhaps unique to Italy, we do a tombola (lottery) – I don’t know where that tradition comes from. Otherwise, it’s a big family gathering for 72 hours, a little intense and my mum does a lot of cooking!

RH: Are there things that you miss or things that you can’t get here?

L: Only family really. I like sanguchitos. They are like small sandwiches but you need the right bread, corn bread, and that’s quite difficult to find.

RH: What are you looking forward to doing here that you can’t do in Peru/Italy?

L: A white Christmas will be nice; in Peru it’s summer.

G: And in Italy it can be quite grey.

We’re looking forward to seeing the lawn mower race! It’s part of the fun New Year’s Eve traditions in Boliden. Lucia will be nice to see also as we haven’t seen it before.

RH: Kalle Anka: Will you switch on or switch off?

L: I didn’t know that was a thing.

G: We have never watched it, but I am a fan of classic Disney, so I’d like to see it this year.

When Christmas cultures collide
Martine and Lars Westerlund.

Martine and Lars

(Martine from Zimbabwe with family in UK and Lars from Sweden)

RH: Where do you normally spend Christmas?

M: It changes; sometimes family come here from the UK and we’ve been there a few times. This year, I hope my son will be with us in Sweden.

RH: How are you going to celebrate Christmas, with Swedish traditions and food, Zimbabwean or British?

M: Our Christmas is usually quite Swedish with sill and various Swedish delicacies. We change it if we have guests; so this year we’ll mix Swedish and British food for my son. Maybe a roast.

RH: What’s unique about Zimbabwean and UK Christmases?
Tell me about your traditions.

M: As it was formerly British, a Zimbabwe Christmas was quite British. The main difference was that when we celebrated Christmas in Zimbabwe, it was too hot for serious cooking, so we adapted to the climate. We’d have Christmas pudding ice-cream using the same flavours and ingredients as the cake. British Christmas food is fairly heavy with very rich flavours, so a splash of cognac on the Christmas pudding preserves it nicely. Of course in UK, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th not the 24th.

RH: Are there things that you miss or things that you can’t get here?

M: Christmas puddings, Christmas cake, and mince pies. I don’t really want to start baking such a big rich Christmas cake from scratch myself, especially if it’s just me and Lasse here to eat it. Those cakes are so huge it would take several weeks to eat!

RH: What are you looking forward to doing here that you can’t do in Zimbabwe/UK?

M: Definitely the white Christmas. It’s what you always dream of and looking out the window on Christmas morning with tealights lit and the fire glowing – it’s picture perfect. We also feed the roe deer unwanted vegetables, so we get to see them come by our window. It’s very special.

RH: Kalle Anka: Will you switch on or switch off?

M: We don’t watch it, as there won’t be any kids here. We have created our own Christmas tradition in the village. Lasse visits a local family who set up a barbecue. He comes by in his full Tomte outfit, they eat korv and he hands over a present. It’s such a novelty, they decided to invite other little friends, it’s a bit of a village thing now – ‘Tomte’s Xmas korv’.

When Christmas cultures collide
Johan and Rosangela.

Rosangela and Johan

(Rosangela from Brazil and Johan from Sweden)

RH: Where do you normally spend Christmas?

R: We’ve spent Christmas here in Sweden since we’ve been together. With Johan and his family.


RH: How are you going to celebrate Christmas – with Swedish traditions and food or Brazilian?

R: Johan’s family have long-standing traditions regarding Christmas activities and food, so most will be Swedish traditions passed on through Johan’s family. They know what foods they will have and each person is allocated something to bring. I think I will get more jobs this year because I’m not new anymore! Tomte comes for the kids and we exchange gifts.

I have added a few Brazilian traditions. I make a dessert made with panettone (a type of sweet bread) and writing a Christmas wish list of hopes for the following year is a Brazilian addition.


RH: What’s unique about Brazilian Christmas? Tell me about your traditions.

R: During Christmas season in South America, people think a lot about the poor and less privileged. You give to charity and also give thanks, It’s a very religious time. We send gift baskets to employees or customers or bring a basket when we are invited into a home.

On the 21st, we all get together to write our Christmas wish list. It’s a special day because it’s the summer solstice. It’s a little ritual – you light coloured candles and write some things you’d like to achieve in the next year. We also give thanks for what we have and say a prayer. The letter is kept in a box with a personal item until the next year. It’s really surprising what comes true!

I think there is less preparation in Brazil. We only buy gifts for the kids and the decorating only begins two weeks before and, of course, the tree is plastic. In Sweden, it’s a full day but in Brazil, it’s more like going for a big dinner. 

Regarding food, we eat panettone of all kinds and flavours throughout December. On the 24th, turkey is traditional with salad, rice and casava flour (‘farofa’). The timing is a little different too. We eat at midnight, so you know you’ll be there until 2 a.m. at least. It’s a bit more like a party and we tend to invite cousins and friends too. It feels completely different to Sweden because it’s so bright and warm, not a cosy feeling – more of a party feeling and an open house.


RH: Are there things that you miss or things that you can’t get here?

R: Of course, I miss all my family and friends but you can get most foods here. I miss the variety of panettone. You can buy it here but only one type usually. Also, casava flour – you can’t get that in supermarkets.


RH: What are you looking forward to doing here that you can’t do in Brazil?

R: Searching for our own tree; it’s a lot of fun and very atmospheric. Johan’s father has land and we get to choose and drag our own tree home. The scent is amazing around the house. I really look forward to the tree hunt.

The Swedish decorations, lights in the windows and the cosy atmosphere are very special. Cooking gingerbread and saffron buns with family is so Christmassy. In Brazil, we have a busy lifestyle and we don’t have time to embrace the Christmas spirit as we do here. Oh, and the snow!


RH: Kalle Anka: Will you switch on or switch off?

R: Yes, we watch it, For my first Swedish Christmas, I didn’t speak much Swedish and didn’t really get it but then the second time, I got it more. I think I can probably watch it and understand it now. 

When Christmas cultures collide
Johan and Rosangela.


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