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Swedish meatballs, lefse, fresh evergreens: Scandinavian heritage infuses Omahan's Christmas traditions

Swedish meatballs, lefse, fresh evergreens: Scandinavian heritage infuses Omahan's Christmas traditions

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With parents of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry, Omahan Mark Eckstrom has always known a Christmas derived heavily from Scandinavian traditions. He reminisces about his favorites here, inspiring a visual smorgasbord that celebrates holiday traditions everywhere.

In the Christmases of my youth, decorations in our family’s home always mixed past and present. Woven wheat garlands and fresh evergreen boughs in centerpieces and wreaths made for a wonderfully intoxicating coniferous aroma in every room.

Swedish dala horses, wheat yule goats and orange pomanders were staples on tabletops. The mantel, though, was less traditional and reflected the latest decorating trends. I still reserve the hearth in my own home for creative play.

Then, as now, heritage foods dominated the menu. Revered dishes included potato sausage (ordered weeks ahead from Stoysich House of Sausage in Omaha) and homemade lefse. My grandmother rolled out the thin dough and deftly flipped it on the griddle with her lefse stick, making the task look incredibly easy. My mom and aunts, though, never could master the art of the flip and ordered Mrs. Olson’s Potato Lefse online instead.

Not to be cliché ... but the smorgasbord truly was a gastronomical delight. Old and young alike got their fill of Swedish meatballs, Lingonberry Jam (Aunt Helga and Uncle Rueben pronounced it “yam” in their Swedish accents), Swedish rye bread, pickled beets, Janssons Temptation (a potato and anchovy casserole), Swedish brown beans (made with salt pork, cinnamon sticks and allspice which took all day to cook) and cookies – Pepperkakers (my favorites), along with Swedish butter and almond cookies. 

The entire extended family celebrated on Christmas Eve with Glogg, eggnog and Tom & Jerry cocktails being served around 3 p.m. alongside appetizers of pickled herring, lefse, crackers and mixed nuts.

Dinner at 5 p.m. was followed by a gift exchange. After gifts, the family piled into the car to attend midnight worship services.

While I loved the beautiful table, decorations and time with family, the highlight as a young boy and then as a teen was returning home, changing into comfortable clothes and raiding a refrigerator filled with leftovers.

Today, I delight in putting my own spin on those special Scandinavian Christmases of my youth. Leftovers included. 


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