First the Norwegian: Aurora Krogh
This year’s South Bank Christmas extravaganza takes on a Scandinavian theme, complete with a Finnish sauna, Swedish cuisine, Gløgg and cinnamon rolls. But can they can really pin down that Scandi-Christmas feel?
As a native Scandinavian well versed in Norwegian and Swedish Christmas traditions, I consider myself equipped to pass judgement on this market. Nothing can be as good as the real deal, right?
Well for starters, calling a “nisse” a gnome, as they do in this market, is way off the path of cultural correctness. According to Nordic folklore a nisse is a mythological creature typically associated with the winter solstice and the Christmas season.
Looking like a hobo Santa, the Nisse helps out around the farm, takes care of the animals and is in general a nice spirit – that is as long as you remember to serve him porridge on Christmas eve! Though the nisse isn’t supposed to be seen, its temper is well known, so if you don’t show your gratitude for his help you had better prepare to be punished!
Moving on from the nisse, we went to have some gløgg, a traditional Scandinavian Christmas drink. Though it is usually served with almonds and raisins on the side, the gløgg tasted authentic enough. It also offers any native Scandi the additional joy of hearing the letter ‘Ø’ pronounced in various, and equally wrong, ways.
The rooftop also served a variety of “Scandinavian Food”, and some of it perfectly suited the description, whereas other choices had me questioning. For example hummus has never been particularly Nordic.
Browsing through the rest of the market it was clear that the theme was in no way coherent. However, they did have a Rekorderlig Cider barn, and if there’s anything I’m on board with, it’s Swedish cider. Given that in the past I have tried and failed to find Rekorderlig in Sweden, it’s lovely to see it represented in the UK! According to their webpage, Rekorerlig “was first created in 1996 with the purest spring water from Vimmerby, Sweden, where it is still brewed today by Åbro Bryggeri.” Not that I really care if my booze is brewed in ‘the purest springwater’, but I guess the description sounds appealing.
No surprise then that their mulled cider was marvellous. But on the day I visited it was raining, which does not make me feel more homesick, and frankly the South Bank Scandi obsession was all a bit weird for me. It’s always good to embrace other cultures and it’s certainly time to give the Scandinavian countries some context, so why did I feel weird about it?
I think it was the way Norway was caricatured, and fetishised. Yes there are mountains and fjords and beautiful nature in Scandinavia, but that doesn’t mean all Scandinavians are pure people from the wilderness with blond hair and a particular eye for (IKEA) design. Feel free to dip into the culture, we’re quite proud of it, but it’s not as fancy as you think. That being said, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, or as we say: “God Jul”.
Now the Brit: Jenny Cottee
Scandinavian Christmas has hit the South Bank, bringing with it a Finish sauna rooftop bar, trucks full of Scandinavian food and drink lining the Thames, and loads of Scandi lifestyle books in the bookshops. There are even Norwegian gnomes, or “Nisse”, and as person born and raised in the UK I am thoroughly enjoying it. Romantic notions of forests covered in snow, hot drinks called “Gløgg”, and food covered in melted cheese, conjure up a cosy festive feel for me. Even the small magical creatures – that I later found out you’re meant to leave out porridge for – give me a sense of that magic and excitement that I have not felt since I was a child.
Some of the food and drink at the South Bank market has names that I would’t even venture to pronounce. One of the things I liked best looked a bit like a cheese toastie to me – still it was maybe best to start out with something familiar rather than some hard core Scandinavian dish like pickled fish!
It’s hard to picture yourself in a snowy Nordic winter wonderland when you’re stuck in rainy grey London, but the Scandinavian mulled wine and cider was not only delicious but also helped keep the chill at bay and at least allowed me to imagine what a beautiful Norwegian experience might be like.
Is this Scandinavian Christmas trend a fad? Of course it is, and maybe next year we will have moved on to something new to get us in the Christmas mood. But for now I’m going to fully embrace this trend by sitting on a log, in fake woodland, and with a temporary sauna behind me and a hot mug of gløgg grasped between my hands, while trying to ignore the scabby London pigeons and typical miserable British weather.