Christmas crack-ups?
Christmas crack-ups?
Olívia Nagy and her husband Rudolf.

Christmas crack-ups?

Expectations of a magical white Christmas are high among newcomers moving to Skellefteå. But what happens when different cultures collide? Marie Lindström talks to three couples about cross-cultural Christmases.

Christmas crack-ups?
Olívia Nagy and her husband Rudolf.

Olívia Nagy and her husband Rudolf (above) are both from Hungary. Before moving to Sweden last year they lived in Malta for one year and in the UK for seven years. They first arrived in Skåne, but soon set course for the north in May 2023. This year will be their first Christmas in Kåge, a little north of Skellefteå. Olívia tells us about her hopes for Christmas.

What brought you to Sweden?

We chose Sweden because we love nature and Sweden is wonderful in that respect. Our dream is to have a large vegan farm, so now we are finally planning for the long term after having moved many times. In England we had a beautiful garden and grew most of our own fruit and vegetables. Now we are renting a nice flat and are growing lettuce, kale and herbs on our balcony. We have mint and lemongrass for making tea and, of course, flowers.

Christmas crack-ups?
Olívia Nagy and her husband Rudolf.

What do you imagine your first Swedish Christmas will be like?

We are excited about our first Christmas in the north as it is sure to be beautiful. Christmas for us is always peaceful, quiet and cozy, with delicious food and long walks in nature. This year we will also be celebrating with our new friends. They say people in the north are not open, but we feel the opposite is true. Everyone is very friendly and open, even though we are still learning Swedish and mostly using English.

What Christmas food and traditions have you picked up in all the different places you have lived?

For us, the most important element of Christmas is calmness and celebration. The Christmas menu is

different every year because I always like to plan it creatively. What is constant is pepparkakor (gingerbread), and it has a long tradition in Sweden as well as Hungary. When I was a child, we also built a gingerbread house every year. Since we have spent a lot of time in England in recent years, vegan Wellington has been a constant ‒ filled with pumpkin, lentils and cranberry sauce. I like to get to know the local traditions and gastronomy, and I select from these to create the festive menu and programme. We have never skied before, and this year cross-country skiing will definitely be one of the new things we will try to learn.

What is a must-have for a vegan Christmas buffet?

We don’t have a must-have on our Christmas menu, but I think pepparkakor will stay with us forever, because it’s something from our childhood and also something that is typical for our new home country.

What kind of food do you miss that you can’t get here?

We don’t miss anything here.


Christmas crack-ups?
Irina Mernenko with her partner Hans Lundberg.

Irina Mernenko (above) is from St. Petersburg in Russia and came to Sweden two years ago to live with her Swedish partner Hans Lundberg. As Russians tend to celebrate New Year rather than Christmas, their festive period has become a mishmash of traditions.

How do you normally celebrate Christmas?

In Russia we celebrate New Year. Christmas is not such an important holiday now as it was before the revolution. Russians belong to the orthodox church. The fact is that we celebrate Christmas according to the old Gregorian calendar and it falls on January 7. On January 6, it is mostly people who believe in God who go to church, but it is usually a very quiet and inconspicuous holiday.

What are festive Russian traditions?

When we celebrate New Year in Russia, there must be two salads on the table. The first is Olivier salad, also known as “Russian salad”, which features potatoes, carrots, pickles, eggs, green peas and meat. Then the second salad is ”herring under a fur coat” which consists of pickled herring covered in layers of potatoes, onions, carrots and beetroot.

What kind of food do you miss that you can’t get here?

Swedish food is delicious, and I can’t say that I miss Russian food, but maybe I miss unsweetened herring. I love Russian traditional pies made from yeasted dough. For example, I love pies with cabbage, onions, and lingonberries. I bake them for Christmas. Traditional Russian Christmas food is rice pudding with dried fruits and honey, pancakes, as well as baked pork. We skip all of that and cook pork and lamb.

So do you celebrate Swedish Christmas as well?

Yes. Hasse makes potatisgratäng (Dauphinoise potatoes). Our Christmas table is a mix, but more Swedish. It’s yummy.

And for a tipple?

Has to be Champagne.


Christmas crack-ups?
Shelbi Taylor and Gustav Östlund.

Shelbi Taylor and Gustav Östlund (pictured above) met online. She was living in the US and he was in Skellefteå. The compromise was to meet in Iceland. Shelbi has now been living in Sweden since 2017 and forming her own traditions hasn’t always been easy.

Christmas crack-ups?
Kolach, Ukrainian Christmas bread.

How do you normally celebrate Christmas?

My family celebrated by blending Christmas traditions from where our ancestors came from with the more traditional American Christmas. For me that meant Ukrainian Christmas on December 24 and a more American Christmas on December 25, so coming to Sweden and celebrating on December 24 hasn’t been that different in terms of the day.

The food is very different and actually it took about five years before I noticed that I looked forward to some of the Swedish Christmas dishes. But for me a traditional Christmas is still how we celebrated when I was growing up. Ukrainian Christmas with wheat, borscht, pierogi and cabbage rolls on the 24th, as well as feasting the day after on turkey and all the trimmings. I really miss that aspect.

So what are your Swedish Christmases like?

With my Swedish family only celebrating on December 24 it somehow seems like cutting the whole holiday short. So to include some of my traditions, we have Swedish dinner on the 24th, a nice small family breakfast on the 25th and then my sambo and I have our own Christmas dinner on the evening of the 25th. We have also thrown in our own tradition where we always go ice fishing on Christmas morning, and of course to me Christmas morning is December 25, not December 24. I told Gustav a few years ago we need to really have the 25th as our celebration day; otherwise I felt myself being lost in so many traditions that are meaningless to me.

Is there anything you find odd about Swedish Christmas?

One thing that has always been a bit weird to me is the tradition around Santa Claus here. I mostly feel a sense of sadness that kids don’t get to wake up on Christmas morning to presents magically having appeared under the tree. I remember when I was younger falling asleep with this overwhelming sense of happiness, gratitude and excitement that when I woke up in the morning the cookies and milk I had laid out for Santa Claus, and the carrots for the reindeer, would have been gobbled up and underneath the tree would be bursting with wrapped gifts and little notes from Santa Claus and the elves. It was always so magical. What happens here is some strange relative in a creepy Santa Claus mask, who has to talk in a strange voice, comes with a bag and brings the presents. I don’t know, I just think it’s so strange. One time I was even asked to play Santa Claus for a family that lived down the street and I refused. I didn’t want to be responsible for breaking a magical Christmas spell because I was some weird short American woman pretending to be Santa Claus.

Christmas crack-ups?
Shelbi Taylor, second from right with and Gustav Östlund, far right, and some of her Swedish family.

Are there any culture clashes when you blend Christmas traditions?

I’ve tried to bring some of my recipes to the Christmas table with our family but it’s a bit sad because there’s always much more leftovers from what I cook. In some ways I understand because all year you look forward to eating your favorites from the Christmas table and of course my favorites from growing up are quite different to those of my Swedish family, but it’s just this constant reminder that Christmas will never be like my Christmases and that’s where I really struggle. And I’ve tried to bring in my own traditions but my Christmas was so much about cooking together with my family and eating our favorite meals together, and I have never been able to recreate that here. As an adult, you can understand that the magic of Christmas definitely changes, but for me it’s been difficult every year.


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