Several Christmases ago, my mother and I invited some of our friends and neighbors to a Scandinavian “coffee table.” A combination of a smorgasbord and the Swedish tradition of fika, or going out for coffee, the coffee table is a popular Scandinavian way to celebrate Advent and Christmas.
We learned about the coffee table tradition from Beatrice Ojakangas, who wrote about it in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and described it on “Martha Stewart Living.” Since the coffee table is comprised of seven items (uneven items are considered lucky), we baked a sweet yeasted bread, an unfrosted bundt cake, a torte, and four different types of Scandinavian Christmas cookies, all in keeping with Scandinavian customs. We decorated the table with Royal Copenhagen vases filled with red tulips, a traditional Christmas decoration in Swedish homes. And we used my mother’s four-decade collection of Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates, so our guests could admire a different plate each time they returned to the table to sample a different item.
We had a great time preparing for and hosting our party. But we think much of the event was lost on our guests. Looking back, we wish we would have known my friend Janet then. She would have reveled in our Scandinavian coffee table.
Janet shares our love not only of Scandinavian culture, but also of celebrating the holidays in special ways. Her home is filled with beautiful things year-round, but at Christmastime, there’s even more to admire. Inside the front door, a St. Lucy figure and a Dala horse sit next to a tabletop tree filled with Scandinavian straw ornaments and garlands, paper mushrooms, candles and Norwegian flags. Barley sugar candy figures that Tasha Tudor would have loved line the windows. Hand-cut paper mobiles of Christmas trees, sleighs, birdhouses, and angels hang from a doorway. A garland of over 20 different hand-cut paper Santas lines a mantel. Above it swings another paper cut-out of a tomten marching past a fir tree, with mushrooms underfoot.
A few weeks ago, in keeping with German custom, Janet planned a Martinstag lantern procession for her grandchildren, where they sung “Ich Geh Mit Meiner Laterne” and snacked on tiny gingerbread men. We contributed our much-loved paper lantern we bought when we attended the lantern procession to Nürnberg Castle that’s part of the annual Nürnberg Christmas Market events.
Last night, I got to participate in this showstopping lineup of holiday festivities. Janet invited me to join her and her daughter, Krisan, in decorating gingerbread hearts like those sold at German Christmas markets.
After Janet cut out hearts from a traditional German Lebkuchen dough, I studded them with almonds and candied cherries. After the Lebkuchenherzen were baked, Krisan decorated them with names of family and friends. We took breaks to look at the pictures I brought to share, showing Lebkuchenherzen at the Nürnberg Christmas Market, a lady making Schmidt Lebkuchen in the Old Town section of Nürnberg, and the Aachener Printen, a special type of Lebkuchen Tait and I enjoyed when we visited Aachen.
As I added three Lebkuchenherzen to our Christmas decorations when I got home, I shared news of a German holiday that Janet introduced me to that we’ve somehow managed to overlook: St. Thomas’s Day, on December 21. On this feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, Germans make iced currant buns called Thomasplitzchen. Whoever wakes up late or arrives late to work that day is jokingly called the Domesesel, or “Thomas Donkey.” I’ve marked the calendar!