It is inevitable, when Christmas is mentioned, for most of people’s minds to fly to Finland, Sweden, the whole Scandinavia. It is a natural hop, even if one has never been there. Well, we can all imagine that the snow, the reindeers, Santa’s sledge, the elves… all these elements bring us to that special place, even if, geographically speaking, it is only in our mind. Nevertheless, public opinion and people’s perception are always, constantly, forged year after year, by layers and layers of cultural stimuli. Among others, I should better say above others, there is literature: several Scandinavian (wonderful!!!) books have without doubts contributed to building the idea of Christmas that permeates the Western world. 1909’s Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Selma Lagerlöf is likely to be one of the main contributors to our collective consciousness of Scandinavia: her debut novel ‘The Saga of Gösta Berling’ is not only still regarded as one of the absolute masterworks of European literature. It is also one of the best depictions of the Nordic countries’ magical atmosphere, rendered through the epic story of an adventurous former priest.
“Set in 1820s Sweden, it tells the story of a defrocked minister named Gösta Berling [who] finds a home at Ekeby, an ironworks estate […] that also houses and assortment of eccentric veterans of the Napoleanic Wars. Berling’s defiant and poetic spirit proves magnetic to a string of women, who fall under his spell against the backdrop of […] the magnificent wintry beauty of rural Sweden.”
A further Xmas title from Selma Lagerlöf would be ‘Christ Legends’, a wonderful collection of tales for children retelling the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood.
Heidi Herman’s ‘The Legend of the Icelandic Yule Lads’ is well-known among Icelanders: it has been passed down from generation to generation for over 1,500 years and can be traced back to 13th Century and the Snorri Sturlson’s Edda. This unique Christmas tale about trolls was once used to terrorize children who misbehaved until in 1746 a public decree was issued to forbid parents from doing it. In the years since, the Yule Lads’ character has been softened and, as the legend goes, they come down from the mountain, one each day starting 13 days before Christmas, they stay through Christmas Day, then leave, one each day, in the order they arrived. This modernized version of the tale brings new life to this very old story: one by one, the Yule Lads each take a break from his own mischief, and each one learns the happiness gained from gift-giving. Even from a source as unlikely as a troll, a selfish act wrapped up in the Christmas spirit grows into something wonderful.
Göran Tunström’s intriguing saga ‘Christmas Oratorio’ begins when Solveig Nordensson is accidentally killed in the 1930s, and ends when her grandson Victor finds redemption for himself (and his whole family) in a staging of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a performance interrupted by Solveig’s tragic death half a century earlier.
Ulf Stark’s ‘The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits: A Christmas Story for Advent’ is a charming and funny Christmas story of a grumpy tomte and some hopeful little rabbits, told over twenty-five chapters (one for each day of Advent ) with delightful festive illustrations that make it perfect for families to share together. A tomte is a Swedish spirit from Nordic folklore who is associated with Christmas, and this is the story of Grump the Yule Tomte, who lives all alone, waiting for Christmas to arrive. But something goes wrong and he decides that he won’t be the Yule Tomte any more. Will the Yule Tomte ever bring Christmas to the big forest?
Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Pippi Longstocking’s after-Christmas Party’ is a classical book beyond time, for children of all ages:
“When Pippi Longstocking hosts an After-Christmas party, Tommy, Annika, and their friends do not know what to expect, but the day is made as Pippi welcomes a new kid, rescues a lost dog, and exasperates crabby Mrs. Finkvist”