If you think Chicago is cold in the winter, try Sweden. A typical January day in Northern Sweden involves temperatures around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun shines only four hours a day. This at least partially explains the massive waves of Swedish immigration to Chicago in the mid-1800s: Chicago is to Swedes what Florida is to the rest of the US – comparatively tropical. And winter is when the Swedes come out to party, so if you’re finding the cold December weather oppressive, the Swedish American Museum is throwing a few events to keep things festive when the gloom threatens to take over. The museum is Chicago’s epicenter of Svenskamerika (Swedish-American culture), so if anybody knows how to deal with the cold, it’s this place.
Julmarknad – December 6
This weekend, you can do your holiday shopping (and snacking) at their annual Julmarknad – a Christmas bazaar in the museum’s main exhibit hall. The crafts on display will be an afterthought when you first walk in, though, as you and the kiddos are bound to be distracted by a “ho ho ho” from Santa, or the traditional folk music, dancing, and games that fill the hall. While the kids are occupied, you can wander a gift-buyer’s wonderland of Swedish handicrafts, including wreaths woven from wild forest greens. You may inadvertently coo at the adorable little wooden furniture (it’s the perfect size for elves), before you load up on all of the glögg cake and glögg almonds a person could ever need. What’s glögg? It’s good you asked, as you’ll need to know about glögg in order to properly celebrate Saint Lucia Day next week. Read on …
Santa Lucia – December 12
The annual Saint Lucia celebration on Daley Plaza – filled with music and light and more Svenskamerika than you can shake a stick at – is best accompanied by a bit of glögg: a hot mulled wine spiked with brandy or vodka and flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon. And you’ll want to pay attention to the most remarkable part of the festival, as girls in long white dresses with red sashes and candelabras on their heads (they know what they’re doing) will sing, dance, and hand out saffron-raisin buns from wicker baskets. The tradition is a hodgepodge of Christian customs and Pagan rituals that involved keeping everyone up all night on the Winter Solstice to avoid being kidnapped by trolls and flying witches. You’d better do the same, just to be safe.
So here’s the moral of the story: When it gets so bitter cold and dark out that you start seeing flying witches, it’s time to think like a Swede. Break out the candle hats and the glögg (and stop by Daley Plaza or The Swedish American Museum) and embrace the cold. You may even start to enjoy it.