206 Tradition, the Swedish Smorgasbord

Lutefisk on the table. Glog in the crock pot. Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, rolepolse, gjestost, rice custard, and potato sausage, always present.

For me, for my generation, we have never known a time without the extended family gathering for a yearly Smorgasbord.  But some people remember when it began.  They are a wee bit older.  I’m not being sarcastic.  The sexagenarians (lovin’ that word!) might remember the beginning.  My mom was a teenager.

People can really add and correct here.  The story in my head goes like this:  My Great Uncle Royal evolved a lot of things in the world and one of those things was research into our family heritage.  He collected the information about the history of the family tree, back to the first family member landing on the continent, when it was not easy or cool to do so.  And he is credited with beginning the family tradition of the Swedish Smorgasbord.

Doing a bit of math, less than twenty participants attended that first Smorgasbord Christmas, around 65 years ago, because that was the extent of the lineage.  Some of the yearly attendees were literally children, most of us yet to be born. Nearly a dozen look on from higher realms, and smile down at us now.  

Depending on the year, forty to sixty people find their way back to reconnect and share.  Like fish swimming to their birth place.  Lutefisk on the table.  Glog in the crockpot. Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, rolepolse, gjestost, rice custard, rye bread and potato sausage, always present.  The traditions of Swedish foods emerged over time, yet have always been in my memory, in my kid’s memory.

Rye bread, lingonberries and rice custard
Rye bread, lingonberries and rice custard

When I was young, we gathered at my aunt’s and uncle’s homes.  My grandma lived in a space that was already too small for the growing group.  The date was Christmas Eve, and although at my earliest unremembered years, we hit both sets of grandparents’ events on that night, the years in my memory glowed with Smorgasbord and the Christmas service at Bothell United Methodist Church (where the small chapel was the only chapel), before Santa made his rounds.

So many people, cousins, sounds, hustle and bustle, women scurrying in the kitchen before and after the meal.  It was love.  Warm and friendly.  Exciting.  Uncle Royal pushing out his stomach, wearing his various costumes and hats.

Swedish Goat
Swedish Goat

When the people had gathered, we all held hands like Whos down in Whoville, sang the Doxology, and started through the line of food.  There is a two tier wooden construction, shelflike, to help the food fit on the table.  It has always been there.  And the Swedish Goat, made of straw, representing the goat that accompanies Yul Tomten on his rounds, he has also followed us through generations (some version of him).  

At our house, the straw goats have successfully bred.  There are four in my view.  The family members have also increased significantly.  Although I have not done the math, definitely more than a hundred folks are invited to this shindig.

When I was a kid, we did presents for everyone, and opened our large gifts from Grandma F at this event. It was a bit overwhelming, yet still manageable. Even in my adult years, that all giving tradition was in action. Eventually a dollar limit was encouraged, then more recently it moved to the gift game. The children have always received gifts at the Smorgasbord.  

Nyasha and Shanté were small when things were changing.  They might be able to remember the homes, the singing Mickey Mouse display on Aunt Donna and Uncle Royal’s wall.  At some point, there was a meeting of the minds.  The elder cluster was moving to more manageable spaces, and the conclusion, if you can even believe this, was to end the experience.

Mom, the representative of our line at that meeting, told me about the outcome.  I remember saying, “You aren’t being very creative.”  I went on to suggest a rented space, a different date…  And the minds met again.  

I was not there.  But everything shifted.  We started the new experience at Northshore Senior Center, Auntie Esther on the piano.  My memory can see me speaking with the volunteer behind the desk, discussing unimportant shenanigans with Wayne in the parking lot, my girls carrying the packages in through the arched entry.  The Woodcrest Estates Clubhouse has hosted us now for so many years.  And we keep shifting… a little Zoom for the pandemic. 

There will be another meeting of the elders when the current option expires.  Ever changing.  Assessing the worth of tradition, the cost, the incredible behind the scenes investment of work, the value of the experience.  The memories, the connection.  Does it live large?  Does it shift down to an extension of those who care? 

Society is constantly pushing us in this way.  And often we get lost, misguided by the whole, following values like money, time crunches, consumerism.  If we could only be quiet long enough, listen deeply enough, to hear the whispers of the Eternal, to feel the pulse of the Universal.  Everything might change.  Nothing may change. Both.  

Traditional thinking holds us in spaces that need to be blasted out of the park (think genocide, it is time to leave genocide behind).  But tradition can also ground us to an interpretation of the basis of all existence, the love that we may be unable to see alone.  

Author: Michele Plumb Stowell

Michele Stowell was a teacher, a hand holder, and encouraging voice. Born an early Gen Xer, she has lived in Western Washington for the duration. Her children, two spectacular genetic daughters and an uncountable number of marvelous scout and school sons and daughters, shine as her biggest impact and her greatest blessing. Just before her 54th birthday, Michele was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Her writing and art work are expressions of the drama and the joy of living earth bound. On October 24, 2021, Michele was released from her physical body, transported to continue her work on other realms.

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