It’s a fascinating aspect of American life that we celebrate our cultural heritage, whether it is Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Persian, in a variety of festivals. Food features prominently. It is also an easier way to experience another culture when you don’t have the time or money to travel. Sometimes it just whets your appetite to go!
Demonstrating how to make lefse
The Scandinavian Festival, held on one day at the Scottish Rite Temple near Sacramento State University, features many booths with various Scandinavian themed goods. Then in the main ballroom they sell tickets to buy food and have seating to watch the flag ceremony or the fashion show. Many people are dressed in traditional dresses or Norwegian sweaters. All decedents of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, or Finland are welcome, in addition the Sami indigenous people are also recognized as their own nation although they live across Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia.
Two of the people in our group discovered they were Scandinavian thanks to 23 and Me so they were discovering cultural traditions like the food, like the delicious flatbread lefse made with potatoes. I also discovered there is such a thing as Viking reenactment. I sent a photo (see above) to my brother and found out that he reenacts being a Viking for his history classes at the Community College where he teaches. I learned something about my family too!
I heard about hygge (hoo-ga) before I went to Denmark. Every year Denmark and Norway compete for “happiest people on Earth” and a big part of that is attributed to this value for hygge. I was looking for a book on Denmark’s history when I discovered Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge (in English of course). I bought it because I loved the design and thought my daughter would like it.
Wiking is the head of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen where he studies living well. I learned quite a few things about hygge from his book. First, unscented candles are critical to creating hygge, best translated in English as “cozy togetherness” Most Danes use lots of candles, lots of sweets and lots of ham and bacon, washed down with coffee or hot chocolate. The ideal number of people to enjoy this cozy time is 3-4 so it is perfect for introverts. The dress code is comfy/casual and often everyone watches “box sets” (think binge watching on Netflix) or plays board games.
I did find it interesting that the book compares the idea of Danish “hygge” with similar words/ideas in Norway, Netherlands, Finland and even Canada, but ignores Sweden. And yet the one place I experienced hygge was at my University chum Susie’s home in Malmo, Sweden. Whereas my hotel, The Absalon, and restaurants were all about Danish modern design. They were stylish but more formal and un-hygge.
My friend Susie explained the competition between Sweden and Denmark. The Danish are smug about their superiority to Sweden. Swedes don’t seem to spend much time thinking about Denmark. It reminds me of the competition between NorCal and SoCal, with NorCal the Danes with a little bit of a chip and SoCal as Sweden too absorbed with its own business to give the other much thought. Susie and her family explained that they enjoy Friday evening television watching with the family, Saturday family time when children get 10 pieces of candy, and Sunday cozy time with family. It’s a lot of togetherness with family.
Work/life balance is very important to all Scandinavians and remember that when you are headed somewhere in a car. People with children knock off work at 4 and others at 5, so rush hour starts early!
I definitely came home thinking I’d like to incorporate more hygge in my life. And you can too. I was in Avid Reader bookstore in Davis, CA and lo and behold, there was a copy just like mine. So I didn’t have to lug it all over Denmark and England and you don’t have to go to Copenhagen to get the book.