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because their acquaintances will wish to see how they manage their housekeeping when they first begin."
"0 !" I said: and I said no more.
When the snow first came, my sagacious Countess-housekeeper nodded her head, and said, "That is not good; that will not hold; it ought to freeze first."
I have got so into the habit of not attending to predictions, that I did not mind this: it was true nevertheless, for here is December month now, and the ground is bare again. It is dark, dreary, rainy, and mild enough for any land. The Swedes talk much of the variableness of the English clime; but I do not desire a constancy in such weather as I have, with the exception of one fortnight's ice and snow, as yet seen in their own land.
But December has come, and now one word meets me everywhere—the word which some Swedish writer calls a magic one—Jul-Afton.
Do you know the meaning of that word? Jul is Christmas, and is pronounced precisely as Yule in English. Afton means evening, and also the meal that is taken at that time—supper. And so Jul-Afton implies Christmas-Eve, and Christmas supper too.
Every land, I believe, makes eating and drinking a component part, more or less, of its national festivals. In connection with Jul-Afton, I always hear Grot mentioned.
"What do you do on Jul-Afton," I asked a Swede.
"We eat grot," he answered.
I went to see a nice and kind lady, who speaks English perfectly, and I asked her the same question.
"We eat gruel," she answered, in English.
"Eat gruel!'' I ejaculated.
''You eat it also in England," she rejoined.
"Yes, but not at Christmas suppers; we take gruel when the doctors or law-makers order it; when we are sick, or in prisons and workhouses."
"Surely," said the lady, to a gentleman of the party, who was supposed to know a great deal of our customs, "surely they eat grot in England."
"Yes; that is true; for I was so happy once to find it in London on Christmas-Eve; oh! that made me glad, to think I should see grot in London on Jul-Afton! But I do not think it is called gruel there."
"What is it like?" I asked.
"It is a small white seed," he said, "that comes from India."
"Kice!" I cried. "So you eat rice milk, or rice porridge, or perhaps even rice pudding—on Jul-Afton."
"It is boiled," he said, "and served hot, with cold milk and sugar; I assure you, Madame, it is right good. But the poor, who cannot afford what you call rice, make grot of corn: they soak it long, and boil it till it is soft, and eat it with cold milk. I have eaten that in my younger days, and I can tell you it goes on.''
"There is another dish," said the amiable Banish lady, at whose pleasant house I was, "that we use here on Jul-Afton; that is Lut fisk."
"There is some now prepared," her equally kind husband added; "pray get some, and show it to the English lady." The Lut fisk was not, however, to be had, so I was favoured with the description of it.
It is stock fish steeped in solution of potash, until it is partly dissolved—or, in plain terms, till decomposition takes place. The smell is terrific: it is boiled, eaten with oil sauce, and recommended by Swedish doctors as very wholesome.
In some cases remedies may be worse than diseases.
So much had I heard of Jul-Afton, in its supper signification. But this, to do Swedes justice, is the very least of the pleasures that attach to that joy-bringing time. It is the great season for family meetings; and that at which all hearts seem opening to kindly and affectionate feelings. Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, is the great family festival of Sweden: from the charming family in its noble palace, to the poorest dwellers in its wooden huts, Jul-Afton is, in some manner, celebrated throughout the land.
But here, in Stockholm, there begins with the beginning of December a note of preparation that is prolonged, and repeated, and strengthened, and reverberated to its close.