Torontonians were greeted with a cheery god jul, which is merry Christmas in Swedish, as they flocked away from the cold and headed inside to warm their spirits at the Swedish Christmas fair.
SWEA, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association of Toronto, and the Harbourfront Centre organized the two-day holiday extravaganza – from Nov. 19 to Nov. 20 – to highlight Swedish culture and traditions around the holidays.
The Harbourfront Centre was decorated with enormous trees, bright lights and Christmas décor. The festivities for the 34th annual holiday event included live entertainment, craft making and food for both the young and old.
Thirty-year-old Catherine Chen, who was born and raised in Sweden before moving to Canada, tries to come to the fair every year.
“It’s a unique festival and I’m always surprised that the Harbourfront Centre dedicates so much space to celebrate Swedish culture,” she said.
Jeriel Tam, Chen’s 35-year- old husband, of Toronto has been exploring his wife’s Swedish heritage for years but went to the Swedish Christmas fair for the first time this year.
“It’s pretty shocking to see just how big the Swedish community is in Toronto,” he said. “Their culture and traditions, especially around the holidays, are very interesting, especially the food.”
The Taste of Sweden marketplace was held in the lower hall where Swedish jams, biscuits and other groceries were spread out on tables encircling an illuminated Christmas tree which dominated the centre of the space. There people could sample and purchase imported Swedish foods, Christmas decorations and handmade trinkets.
Right next to the marketplace, hungry folks could purchase freshly-made meatball dishes and various sandwiches in a pop-up Swedish restaurant. Visitors were also encouraged to try glögg, roughly pronounced glooog, a sweet beverage made with mulled wine, spices and brandy. Served hot, glögg can warm even the coldest of hearts during the winter season.
Upstairs, People filled the seats of the concert hall and watched children sing in the Lucia Pageant. The pageant was a celebration of Saint Lucia who brought light and hope into the world and is normally celebrated throughout Scandinavia on Dec. 13, Santa Lucia Day. Children in the pageant light candles to signal the coming of Santa Lucia, which marks the beginning of merriment and feasting that lasts throughout the holidays.
“It’s about promoting light in the dark December months,” said Gunilla Sjölin, president of the SWEA. “December is a really dark month in Sweden. There’s hardly any daylight in the Northern part of Sweden at all so the festival really promotes light.”
Afterwards, the Toronto Swedish Folk Dancers, backed by a choir, took the stage to entertain the audience with some traditional Swedish song and dance.
Inside the studio theatre, a movie marathon was hosted for kids featuring five different Pippi Longstocking films dubbed in English. Pippi Longstocking was created by the acclaimed Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren whose books, along with the works of Swedish writers like the late Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Camilla Läckberg (The Ice Princess) and Lars Kepler (The Hypnotist), were also exhibited in an author display. There, popular books by the before-mentioned writers could be purchased in English translations.
The Christmas fair is planned a year in advance and involves about 80 SWEA members organizing and executing the festival for the thousands of people that show up between the two days. The high turnout rates in recent years have the SWEA debating expanding the event into different areas of the Harbourfront, or, as a last resort, moving to an entirely different venue.
“(The turnout) was almost too much for us,” Sjölin said. “Harbourfront Centre figured they had about 6,000 visitors on the Saturday and somewhere in the range of 4,000 on the Sunday. It’s about as much as we can handle.”
The fair culminated with the Toronto Swedish Folk Dancers, accompanied by singers, coming out once more and performing a ritual of dancing around the Christmas tree. Hand-in-hand the dancers skipped merrily circling the tree as the evening slowly winded down. The visitors then bundled up and headed back out into the dark, cold city streets with their stomachs full of glögg and warm smiles plastered across their faces.