Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Christmas Stars & Candles: Scandinavian and American Traditions


Last year I shared three posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) about my immediate family's efforts to honor the heritage of both my Swedish roots and The Engineer's (quite firmly planted) American traditions. I think we make it work pretty well. Recently though, I was reminded of another difference in our cultures. Outside decorations, or should I say, decorations one can see from outside the house.

Let's start with us Americans. Frankly, I think we've gone off the deep end. I love Christmas lights, especially if they follow the outline of the entire house and DON'T BLINK. I like the new LED lights - they twinkle so gently. I certainly appreciate the folks who rent a cherry picker, and string lights, thousands of lights, all over their trees.

I don't like plastic figurines. And the worst off all? The inflatables. The SPINNING inflatables. Why? To me they are just ridiculously overboard. To view these good and bad decorations, our family traditionally gets some fast food, puts on some Christmas music, and spends an evening driving around looking for nice light displays. It's festive, cozy, and a nice time. (I secretly pretend I have a BB gun and shoot the inflatables.)

Swedes on the other hand, at least as far as I can remember (and I checked with The Swede who concurred) don't really decorate the OUTSIDE of their houses. They concentrate on the inside and how those decorations appear from the outside. The idea is to create a cozy, welcoming atmosphere that beckons visitor to come in.

That cozy effect is most often invoked now with in modern times with  electric candle stands, shaped in an inverted V in the windows. (I searched for non-copyrighted pictures and couldn't find any...and my parents don't have theirs up this year...so use your imagination). A lot of families also put single candles (again, now electric) in every window. I remember vividly flying home for Christmas (pre-marriage and family) and as we pulled into my parents' cul-de-sac, there were the lights, the figurines, and then at our house, a single candle in every window. Made me a bit misty for my homeland.

Another traditional Scandinavian (as in not just Swedish, but Norwegian and Danish, too)window decoration that beckons visitors is the Advent Star. These are found in many variations all over Scandinavia. This particular star is from my Farmor's home (father's mother). 


photo by my Dad

 It's now hanging in the window at my parents house, here in Colorado. It's made from gently shaved wood, delicately woven into this heirloom. Many Swedes implement some variation of this star. They are as varied as snowflakes, and when I see one, I want to go inside, sip some coffee, and catch up with friends.

What are some of your traditions?  Do you have a defense for the necessity of inflatable decorations?

P.S My friend actually MADE stars like this one from vintage paper.  She's like a crafting super hero or something.  Directions, pictures, nice tutorial all found at her very popular blog, House Revivals.  Go check it out and at least say hi!


12 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm with you on the inflatables. Santa on a John Deer tractor just doesn't do it for me.
The stars in your window are a very nice touch!

House Revivals said...

Thank you for sharing your your lovely traditions! LOVE that window star!

Brian Miller said...

i have to say i like the rustic feel of the scandanavian decor....we got lights out fron...and on the side...no inflatables...

JoJo said...

I dislike tacky inflatables soooo much. They look horrible when deflated. My dad did a nice job putting out outside lights when I was a kid, but I really didn't do it when I was on my own. I like decorating inside, although I did put lights on the deck rail this year. I prefer to have a real tree, and use angel hair tinsel but it's been impossible since I got my German shepherd in 06. Just small fake trees now.

My bff is Swedish (American Swedish though) and she was going to some Scandinavian holiday events in the SF Bay Area before she had her kids and her specialty to bring was Glurg (sp?), although she avoides Lutefisk like the plague!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Personally, I love simple decorations, like candles in the windows, but I'm married to Clark Griswold, Jr., so our house is actually a bit of a draw around here. Seriously, people block our driveway and take pictures (which I'm not really comfortable with, but what can you do?). My hubby loves Christmas, so I have to suck up my Scroogeness and let him do whatever he wants to the outside of the house.

We have all LED lights (except for Yoda, but hubby plans on modifying him next year with LED's), so it costs us very little, despite the house being covered. Hopefully we can get pictures tonight with a bit of snow around the decorations, and it will be my Wednesday post next week.

And inflatables, meh. Despite being the Griswold residence, we don't have any of those. I don't hate them when I see them, though. Besides, what's the point with the winds we get out here??

Shannon at The Warrior Muse

Andrea said...

That star is simply beautiful! I am not a big fan of inflatables, and they look even more silly when there is no snow. My grandparents started us all on Dickens villages over 15 years ago. I put my grandmother's out, but not mine yet...yikes!

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm not a big fan of inflatables, but I can see where the little ones would like them.

In our old neighborhood, the Murphys were the best, they had a Santa sleigh pulled by Canada Geese and the best display front and back (they were a corner lot)including a nativity. Maybe a bit overboard, but they collected for charity every year from donations.

I posted on my 21st century blog about some of my decorations - all interior ones.

Hope your holidays are great, and best wishes for 2013.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Outside decorations are becoming much bigger in the UK, but still not on the US scale. I personally prefer to concentrate on the inside - or at least, I prefer to let Hubby concentrate on the inside while I moan 'Do we REALLY need that extra hanging bauble thing?' :-)

David P. King said...

That is beautiful. I heard about this while doing my Scandinavian research, but now I get to see one. Awesome! :)

Tammy Theriault said...

she made the stars? wow! and what a great post!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina .. crumbs it's just eaten my comment and that really frustrates! I love the various traditions and it's great to see all sorts - I hate inflatables and anything 'tacky' ...

Annalisa says we're getting the American style ones over here now - some are used to raise money for charity ...

I prefer simple - I love your wooden, natural Swedish style ones ... I will relax this year and not do anything - next year I shall be ready to and cleaned up to put Christmas decorations out ...

Have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I do hope you have a better 2013 .. with big hugs and much enjoyment to you and the family .. cheers Hilary

loverofwords said...

Thought of you today when I visited IKEA. I like the Scandinavian idea of simplicity, fewer ornaments, simple design, use of natural materials. I bought herring, ginger cookies made to hang on the tree, salmon and Swedish pancakes and another stuffed animal -- a mother seal and her seal cub. Their children's department is a marvel, reasonable, magical and imaginative.
Merry Christmas, Tina to you and your family and that special boy!