Friday, December 16, 2011

Tomten - Sweden's Santa

Tomten. He may not be the same Santa that I grew up with in the United States, but he's Sweden's main man during the Christmas holidays.

And it's become a tradition for our family to visit the Tomten at NK department store every year. Partly because I know that he always has time for my kids to visit with him. There are no paid photographers that need to be paid to talk with Tomten. No long waiting lines to visit Tomten. Barely another child in sight. What? Don't the Swedes know the power of this guy? He's the one that brings the presents at Christmas!

Two years ago Tomten explained to our 8-year old son exactly where the Legos were built at his workshop. He gave directions down the hallways, and when to turn right or turn left. The look on K's face was priceless. He listened. Really listened.

This year Tomten sat ever so patiently while Mia showed him every single page in the toy catalog that had a Barbie, Monster High doll, or any other variety of the endless stream of toys that she chooses on a daily basis now.

All the while, the family paparazzi (that's me) snaps unlimited shots to capture those special moments with Tomten. No extra charge.

The visit always ends with a stroll outside to look at the department store's Christmas windows. At this time of year it really doesn't matter what time of day we go to see the's dark after 3pm and anything before that is dusk. The lights and music combine to create just the right kind of festive spirit, and because we've already been in to visit Tomten, we resist the urge of being drawn back in to the commercialism lurking behind those holiday window displays.

Well what do you know? The Americans and Swedes have something in common after all - Christmas shopping madness.

Until next time...

Monday, November 7, 2011

All Saints' Day vs. Halloween Day

The American-style Halloween tradition is slowly making its way to Sweden, so our family recently traveled to Denmark to celebrate Halloween at Tivoli.

I believe one of the reasons that Halloween isn't big here yet is the confusion between when, where, how and why it is celebrated, given that it falls at the same time of year as Sweden's Alla Hellgons Dag (All Saints' Day), which is equivalent to Memorial Day in the U.S. and a time to remember the dead.

In other words, it would be like a lot of kids walking around in costumes and asking for candy on Memorial Day.

So, you see, each year that I continue to live in Sweden, I gain a little more understanding of why things are done 'differently' here, or where cultural celebrations differ and why. So in honor of my continued quest for understanding, here's an absolutely breathtaking video that shows the beauty of Sweden's memorial celebration.

All Saint's Day in Sweden from Christopher Bennison on Vimeo.

Background Info: 

As dusk falls on Saturday, All Saints Day, Swedes stream towards the country's graveyards armed with candles, matches, wreaths and flowers for the graves of their loved ones.

The beauty of the candlelight blended with a soothing melancholy creates an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Small rural churchyards are visible across fields, dotted with flecks of golden light, while in towns and cities people murmur hushed greetings to those visiting neighbouring graves.

Probably the most spectacular place to witness the festival is the massive cemetery of Skogskyrkogården in the south of Stockholm. Chatty crowds drift from the train station, past hot dog vendors and candle stalls, as if to a football match.

But as they enter the cemetery they are greeted not with the roar of a stadium but with a silence almost as overwhelming. Thousands upon thousands of marshal lights line the winding road into the churchyard, the glare becoming more and more intense until at the top of the hill in the centre there is barely space to walk between the rows of candles.

[Excerpt from]

Until next time...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Traveling Circus - Pros and Cons of Living in Sweden

When I talk about the traveling circus I'm not referring to my family (although on some days...). I'm talking about the real Deal.


Cirkus Maximum is a fun little family-owned circus that travels around Sweden each year and has been doing so for the past 30 years. The caravan of candy-apple red and golden yellow wagons file in line to different sites every few days. They pitch the big red tent, bring in the elephants and the clowns, and each year showcases a new act of acrobats or daredevils.

There's something special about kids at a circus. Watching them watch the circus performers with their sticky cotton candy hands, everything feels possible. The clowns are still throwing pretend water at the crowds. The acrobats still fly high above our upturned faces. There are dogs jumping through hoops, body contortionists, and camels to ride during intermission (and seeing a camel in a cool weather country like Sweden is quite a sight).

I don't miss the big arena-style circuses of my own childhood. In fact I think my kids are getting a better experience with the small traveling circus where they can wave at the ringmaster in his wagon as we walk by after the show.

Yes, the traveling circus falls on the 'Pros' side of the 'Living in Sweden' list. Just look at how happy there were after the show!

Until next time...

p.s.  If you would like a little peek at this fun bit of Swedish culture, watch this quick 2-minute video that showcases Cirkus Maximum.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Weekend Abroad in Denmark

I'm not sure if you can really call it 'abroad' when a weekend trip to Copenhagen (Denmark) is only a 3-hour drive from our town in Sweden. That's where we went this past weekend to enjoy a nice helping of good-'ol-home-style Halloween-ing, along with the characteristically wonderful sights and sounds of Copenhagen.

You see, Halloween hasn't hit big yet here in Sweden. It's coming, but slowly. I work hard to keep this American tradition alive for my kids - and that has included everything from arranging big Halloween parties with the local American Women's Club to dropping letters in every single one of my neighbor's mailboxes explaining 1) the Halloween holiday, 2) when our kids would be knocking on their doors for trick-or-treating, and 3) why it's important to have candy ready and waiting.

I saw that Tivoli in Copenhagen was having a Halloween theme - and thanks to Groupon we got a hotel smack in the city center for super cheap. It was meant to be, so off we went. First day - Tivoli amusement park, built in 1843 and located right in the center of Copenhagen.

Well, we were traveling with 2 small children, after all. Not all moments are happy moments - as witnessed in the shot above...even in an amusement park!  But then there are the moments like this one below, where all of the world's problems melt away with a little cotton candy!

Two of my favorite photos from the trip did not come from our own camera, but from the camera on the Tivoli rides. You know, the ones where you usually have this funky freaked out look on your face? But this time was different, and we had to get these photos for the fun memories they will preserve. First, I don't think we could get Kai's hair to stand up like that if we used a full can of hairspray. And then the look on Mia's face is one of genuine fear and fun combined!

So, while I wasn't blogging or checking emails or pinning on Pinterest, I was having a great family weekend 'abroad'.

Watch for more great images from Copenhagen, coming soon.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Weekend Free of Blogging - Part II

It was another fun-filled day with friends visiting from England. The divine little Miss M and I joined our friends on the large Swedish island of Tjörn to take in some 'sculpture in a field' and a picnic on the ocean coast.

Above:  Sculpture in Pilane is a unique sculpture exhibit with artists from around the world displaying their (often oversized) works of art in an ancient cultural landscape (field) with stone 'judgement circles' dating from the iron age. Sheep included.
Below: Random shots of things that caught my eye around Tjörn.

What a great weekend! Again, if you want to see more pics from Friday and Saturday, don't miss Part I of 'A Weekend Free of Blogging'.

Until next time...

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A Weekend Free of Blogging (Almost)

Apart from now (Sunday eve), it has been a weekend away from blogging - and here's the proof.

Above:  Shots from the Gothenburg Culture Festival on Friday eve.
Below:  Shots from a day trip to Trollhättan on Saturday with friends visiting from England.

opening the damn gates

boat locks from 1795 (left) and 1844 (right)

the boat locks today take sailboats...

...and big boats!

the locks: entering (low) and exiting (high)

the old clock tower and the old locks

maritime officer's house from the 1700s, gate from the same era

vintage volvo ambulance and fire truck

Until next time...

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Swedish Rites of Passage - The Summer House

I'm starting a new series here at The Accidental Swede called 'Swedish Rites of Passage'. Each time I pass a Swedish rites of passage milestone - by participating in activities and events that are quintessentially Swedish and bring me that much closer to 'Swedehood' - I'll be sharing my experiences with you.

One such rite of passage is the Swedish summer cottage. I've never known so many people to own summer cottages - known as the sommarstuga - in my life. It is truly a Swedish phenomenon! Many of them are family owned and passed down from one generation to the next. And while some of them are quaint single-room cabins with no modern facilities (that means indoor toilets), others have been expanded to resemble nothing short of a year-round modern home for 10 people! If you are really lucky, you are the offspring of generations past who built their summer cottage on the coast or one of the hundreds of islands just off the coast of Sweden.

Now, in the land of summer cottage ownership, I single-handedly found the one man in Sweden who's family does not own a summer cottage. If you knew the odds of that happening, you'd really be shaking your head now. So we find ourselves at the mercy of our kind and good friends to partake in this rite of passage.

In my 10 years here, we've had three such wonderfully Swedish opportunities. The first time was a lovely family summer cottage in Smögen on Sweden's west coast. With picturesque fishing huts and a uniquely smooth-stone coastline, it was a great initiation into this Swedish rite of passage...although I was in that 'I just had my first baby and don't quite have all my wits about me yet' fog. So apart from the photos, I must admit I don't remember too much about it at all. Pity. The 2nd time was in Fjällbacka, a lovely town also on Sweden's west coast and summer home of legendary actress Ingrid Bergman (pronounced berry-man in Swedish). It was a lovely time that included a 'scraped knees' incident that our friends will never let us live down.

And that brings us to our recent stay with friend's at their 'family cottage', again on Sweden's west coast (often referred to as Sweden's best coast). This was one of those summer cottages that is really more like a house by any other terms. And they've even split it down the middle so that more of their families can enjoy the space (that's how big it was). We were just north of Grebbestad, and right smack dab on the coastline! We had just enough time to say hello and hug our hosts before our breath was taken away by the view beyond.

We went on to have a great mini-vacation with boating to the rocky islands off the coast, rock hopping, exploring, and scavenging for really old junk washed up on the island shores (a big thanks to Andreas for not rolling his eyes at me when I loaded up the boat with my treasures which included a sizeable driftwood log and part of an old door that still had the front handle and lock box attached).

So now that I have stayed in a Swedish summer cottage right on the coast, I feel secure in knowing that I have indeed come through this rite of passage and am now on the other side.

With that, I'll leave you with a little visual goodness.

A HUGE thanks to Dale Miller - the smartest person I know (I seriously doubt he relies on Google like I do) - for gently pointing out to me that my original 'rights of passage' used a million times in this post should actually be 'rites of passage'. Edited! Remember that "I had a baby" fog I referred to earlier? Yeah. I still try to use that one even today. Not successfully.

Until next time...

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