Counting the Days

nov09 296 This entry's by request..

Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Danes will open so-called "advent presents" and light a candle in their advent krans (I have not made an advent krans since the year one caught fire in my Copenhagen flat and nearly burned down the house). The presents are usually small - I have been known to find novelty socks in my parcels.

However, my gran has obviously decided that a "small present" equals giving me 11 (ELEVEN) balls of yummy DK-weight superwash wool in a rather fetching shade of red. She's included a pattern for a yoked cardigan too. I have three more parcels to go. I dread to think what she might have come up with. Incidentally David found a handknitted beanie in his advent present. I seem to spot a theme..

(Sorry about the '80s feel about this photo - it was the best I could do in order to capture the colour)

The advent calendar is a variation upon a theme. When I was very young, I would get a julekalender instead, much like the one Linn is blogging about. Twenty-four tiny parcels, one for each day leading up to Christmas. The presents were tiny - maybe a pencil or a piece of chocolate - but they served their purpose. I got out of bed on time and I kept track of how many days I had to wait until Christmas.

Linn mentions something which I really miss here in Scotland: the calendar candle (not to be confused with the advent krans). One candle with numbers 1 to 24 clearly marked and each day you burn away one number. Just before December 1st, you make a "juledekoration" to really display the candle (I have fond memories of going to the woods with my family and finding materials for these things) and then each night as you are having dinner or tea, you light the candle. The trick is to get the right size candle so you do not burn away the numbers too quickly or slowly.

And the final way of counting the days? The televised yule calendar. Yup, twenty-four episodes of a special Christmas children's show with one episode shown per day. It's usually about how Christmas is in danger for one reason or another.. You'd get a royal version with princesses and Christmas gnomes,one taking place in Greenland, a puppet version, a 19th century version and, well, one for the grown-ups (all YouTube links and, yes, Danes are very fond of singing..)

Any particular Christmas traditions in your family or in your culture?

Look! A Yule Pig!

pothMy gran sent me a pile of knitting patterns from her ladies' magazines. I always enjoy looking at these patterns. Many are reprinted patterns from yarn companies' leaflets, but they are recent reprints and often patterns I would not have had access to by virtue of being in another country. I have never made any of these patterns, though. Until now.

Just look at those POTHOLDERS! Yes, fair isle potholders with traditional Scandinavian Christmas motifs (a Yule Pig! a Yule Buck!) with crocheted edgings! I'm terribly excited by these super-Scandinavian potholders and I have the urge to buy some Rowan Handiknit Cotton right this minute!! Exclamation Mark!

(Sanity? What sanity?)

My gran also sent me various craft kits for Christmas decorations. It's a bit early for me to get crafty but I predict that next Saturday will be spent at the dining table with scissors and superglue. I'll be making kræmmerhuse (stitching not included) and julehjerter whilst scoffing gran's peppernuts and IKEA's pepparkakor. And Dave will be somewhere else because he always bit nervous when I go into full Scandi-Christmas mode.

Unrelated: stay tuned for a finished object. My Byronic Percy Shawl is currently blocking and it's very, very pretty (and very orange).

Christmas Time (Almost)

dec-2008-194I smell like a smoked sausage. Sunday afternoon was spent outside in our garden carolling, eating mince-pies, drinking mulled wine and huddling in front of little wood burners. It was very, very enjoyable and I hope it will turn into a tradition as it was a good way to celebrate Winter solstice begin the Christmas holidays. I was asked by some of my Scottish friends how Danes celebrate Christmas.

The most important difference is the actual date: we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. Most of December 24 will consist of preparing food, watching From All of Us (dubbed into Danish), attending church and then around 6pm sit down for the traditional meal. Obviously the meal will differ slightly from family to family, but we usually have roasted pork with crackling, roasted duck with prune and apple stuffing, caramelised potatoes, boiled potatoes, gravy, stewed red cabbage and halved apples with redcurrant jelly. David is a huge fan of the Danish Christmas dessert: ris ala mande: it is basically cold rice pudding mixed with vanilla-infused whipped cream and chopped almonds. It is served with hot cherry sauce. The pudding has a tiny game attatched to it: You put in one whole almond and whoever finds the almond gets a special present. After the meal people gather around the decorated Christmas tree, the (real!) candles are lit and you dance around it singing a mixture of psalms, traditional folk songs and a few recent Christmas songs. One of my personal favourites is the psalm Julen Har Bragt Velsignet Bud (Christmas Has Brought Us Blessed News). And then it is time for presents.

I think one of the biggest cultural differences for me is how the time up to Christmas is spent. In Denmark I was used to people gathering to bake or make candy together. You'd get together with friends or family to make decorations out of paper, branches and clay. The four Sundays leading up to Christmas would be marked by lighting candles and exchanging small presents. I have marked these traditions, of course, but it feels a bit odd when you are the only one excited by weaving Christmas hearts (such as the ones you can see in the photo of our tree), thinking about baking (which I actually didn't manage this year) or marking the Christmas Sundays. I have delighted in following the Christmas advent calender aimed at Danes living abroad, mind.

Tomorrow's blog will be all about knitting. Consider yourself warned. For now, let me leave you with a collection of the worst Christmas songs ever created. Enjoy.

It Is Not Entirely My Own Fault

Following on from yesterday's Chomsky snippet, here is an article asking Can You Teach Your Kid To Have Taste? The premise is that a classical music reviewer has been dragging his ten-year-old son along to work and has begun wondering how that influences his son's taste in music/art/literature. The kid likes Tolkien, Russell Crowe westerns and visiting museums - maybe not the most average boy - but has that to do with his parents' (evidently highbrow) taste or is it something inert?

Unsurprisingly the writer does not come up with an answer, but the article made me reflect upon my own taste. I can pinpoint why I like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter. I can also tell you why I enjoy reading Georgette Heyer and watch the Eurovision Song Contest religiously. But I come up short when I reflect upon my weakness for films like Roeg/Cammell's Performance and Todd Haynes' entire oeuvre. And what about my love of modernist poetry and early twentieth century abstract art? Not to mention my love of very, very bad sci-fi films? What has caused this odd pick-and-mix of things I grew up loving and things I have encountered later in life?

Can you trace how your own taste was formed?

What Do You Mean By "It's Only July"?

The first family request for a Christmas wish list usually pops up about a month after my birthday. I'm a February child. Lately I've found myself asking my Other Half what he wants for his birthday. His birthday is in November. I suppose we all try to be different from our parents and none of us succeed.

But I usually hate writing wish lists whether they be for my birthday or for Christmas. Last year was a classic case of Ms Bookish trying desperately to think of things that could easily be sent by mail, was difficult to confuse with anything else* and that would not just gather dust. So, I asked for plain table cloths, a mascara and a Danish film. I didn't end up with any of these things, of course.

(* I remember one year I asked for a tiny saucepan because I was a poor student with foodie tendencies. I got a huge stew-pot instead because I "needed that much more". I put it next to my other two stew-pots. No, it was impossible to exchange it for the tiny saucepan; stew-pot came straight from my auntie A's cookery stash)

This year will be different. I have signed up for Wist which apparently helps you organise cool things you see online (it would be extra useful if I could remember my password). I have bought a notebook where I keep track of lust objects and when my mother finally pleads for a wish list (this month? next month?), I shall mail her one with well-organised, colour-coded items I would absolutely love.

Here's a little preview of my two-page long list:
+ Merino/silk yarn from Nimu
+ Icelandic shawl pattern & yarn
+ Knitted Lace of Estonia - Nancy Bush
+ Addi knitting needles: 3mm, 4mm, 5mm ..

Huzzah for new, exciting hobby and all the exciting things that overseas family can easily send me! Huzzah! Christmas cannot come soon enough - and I think it's the first time in my adult life that I've said that.

Webs We Weave


How badly do I want this uppercase scarf? Pretty badly, I tell you. The scarf led me on a typographic journey of the net which yielded new interesting sites: the & Blog, Bembo's Zoo which is seriously cool, FontStruct which lets you design your own (very basic) typefaces, and, er, The Swedish Furniture Name Generator.

Hey, I can't be all arty and intellectual all the time!

How about A.S. Byatt on textiles, textures and texts, then? It marries all my loves: books, texts, literary theory and, ahem, yarn.

Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on a spindle, the Lady of Shalott is entwined in thread, Silas Marner is enclosed in his loom - why have spinning and sewing so often been associated with danger and isolation? (..) We think of our lives - and of stories - as spun threads, extended and knitted or interwoven with others into the fabric of communities, or history, or texts.