December 14th, 2010

Yesterday marked the official start of the Christmas season in Sweden. According to the Julian calendar, the winter solstice occurs on December 13th, the longest night of the year. On that long dark night, it was believed that the activity of evil forces increased, therefore it was best to keep awake and to guard against the night with candlelight. The celebration of Saint Lucia began in the 19c and enveloped earlier traditions. Then, as today, Saint Lucia is a coveted role played by a young girl in the community. Dressed in a long white gown and a crown lined with candles, she leads the traditional celebrations and Christmas carols. If you are in the Minneapolis region, I highly recommend taking in the Christmas celebrations, exhibitions and decorations at the American Swedish Institute.  

In a few short hours, I will be traveling to Göteborg, Sweden to take in some of the festivities, foods, and sights of the city. My mother's grandparents emigrated to the United States from  Göteborg, and though we've lost touch with family there, I'm curious to experience the culture of my roots and whether some of our holiday traditions originated from Sweden, such as oyster stew on New Year's Even and the endless supply of sugared lefse over the holiday season.


The markets, glogg, and cardamom sweets rank high on the itinerary, but I'm also planning to take a day trip out to a midcentury social housing development in Kortedala district. When built, it was an innovative housing program implemented with the belief that a social democracy was obligated to provide quality housing for all. Between the wars, the economic base in European countries shifted from agricultural to industrial, creating a massive and urgent need for urban housing. Kortedala was successful then and seems to be yet today. One apartment houses the Kortedala Museum, which showcases a typical apartment of 1957, complete with its original residents! The apartment retains all of its original furnishings from the Danish modern dining table, to kitsch bric-a-brac, to the authentic toiletries in the bathroom. Guests are invited to sit back in the easy chairs and have a chat with the couple about days gone by. Unfortunately, the museum is only open on Sundays, so I won't be able to visit, but its doubtful that a trip to Kortedala will be a wasted day. Within recent years, Kortedala has become the newest hip district, with off-beat bars featuring the leading local bands. Swedish singer, Jen Lekman, wrote his third album Night Falls over Kortedala while living in the suburban development, revealing a gritty insided account of life in Kortedala. With that in mind, I plan to use Kortedala as a case study for my dissertation, in which I will study the ways this particular social housing program has succeeded while others in Britain have failed miserably. Next week's post will be plum-full of my images and findings of top Swedish design in Göteborg.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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