In Scandinavian culture, the Christmas season officially begins on December 13th—Saint Lucia’s Day. Early in the morning on Saint Lucia’s Day, one of the daughters of a household goes from room to room dressed as the saint—all in white and wearing a crown of lit candles on her head. She wakes up her siblings and parents and offers them hot coffee and St. Lucia buns. Later in the day, the people of a town gather together and choose a young girl to play St. Lucia for the whole town and lead them in procession through the streets as they celebrate the Saint whose name means “light” in the darkest time of the year.
As Christmas draws closer, a peculiar sight may be seen in many Scandinavian homes and towns: statues made out of straw in the form of a goat decorated in red ribbon. The Yule Goat, as he is called, has been around for hundreds of years, probably stemming from Norse mythology. Originally, he was an invisible spirit who would come to your home to ensure you were properly preparing for the Yuletide, he later became associated with pranksters and jokers (a popular prank being to try to sneak a straw goat statue into your neighbor’s house without them noticing), and for a while the Goat was the figure that brought gifts to children on Christmas day, but now he is most often seen as a straw ornament in a town or home.
The tradition of making straw ornaments itself goes back a long way in Scandinavia, to the older tradition known as The Remembrance of the Birds. On Christmas day, in many Scandinavian communities, particularly in Denmark and Norway, farmers would give their animals extra fodder and take the last sheaf of wheat brought in during the previous harvest and use it to decorate above all the gates and outside doorways on their farm so that the birds might eat it. In this way they did honor to the birds and beasts that were the witnesses to Christ’s birth in the stable in Bethlehem.
On Christmas Eve, once the Christmas tree has been trimmed with stars and other ornaments and given its own Yule Goat to guard it, the entire family gathers together to eat the Christmas meal and await a visit from a Tomtenisse. Tomtenisse is one of the reclusive but friendly gnomes who are said to live in the forests, farms or under the floorboards of every house! Tomtes love to play small tricks, so the family will often leave out a bowl of porridge to appease their Tomte in the hopes that he won’t get too carried away with his tricks and might even leave the children of the house a few small gifts when no one is looking.
Make yourself a batch to warm both body and spirit on a cold winter’s night.Open Recipe
- 2/3 cups unflavoured spirits (i.e. vodka)
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 30 whole cloves
- 2 pieces dried ginger
- 1 dried bitter orange peel
- 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
- 2 bottles red wine
- 1 ¾ cups sugar
- Almonds and raisins for serving
Put vodka and all spices in a container, such as a glass bottle.Let sit at room temperature for 1 week.
Warm up a little of the wine and let sugar dissolve in it.
Strain out and discard spices from vodka and mix with all the wine.
Serve warm (but do not boil) with raisins and almonds.