Because my roots are in Sweden and Finland, I’m quite partial to Christmas stories coming from the Scandinavian region.
Previously I’ve posted some of my favorites, which you can find via the links at the end of today’s post. Today I have five more.
These titles are a bit obscure here in the U.S. but if you are really motivated, I think you can find them.
Erik and the Christmas Horse, written by Hans Peterson, illustrated by Ilon Wikland, translated by Christine Hyatt
first published in Sweden in 1968; first American edition 1970 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
It’s December 13, St. Lucy’s Day, and Erik is perched at his window in the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) thrilled that it is finally snowing. He’s been dreaming of building a snowman and maybe even an igloo if enough snow comes down.
As he heads out to school for the day, Erik meets up with old Mr. Lindberg and his cart-horse Mari who are delivering packages. These two are dear friends of Erik’s and he greets them warmly. But Mr. Lindberg says a strange thing: “You’re lucky, Erik. You can run upstairs to your mother’s kitchen and get warm. But it’s not so good for many other people who have nowhere to live.”
Thoughts of unsheltered people, and especially worries that Mr. Lindberg himself and that good horse, Mari, have nowhere but a bush to sleep under at night, plague Erik throughout the day. When he encounters Mr. Lindberg again after school, Erik generously invites him to their home for Christmas.
Watch as Mr. Lindberg gently helps Erik see that he does indeed have his own home, even while his heart is warmed, as is ours, by Erik’s tender concern and generosity. It’s a lovely story, illustrated by Ilon Wikland’s gorgeous, charming watercolors. Ages 3 and up.
Christmas Eve at Santa’s, written by Alf Prøysen, illustrated by Jens Ahlbom, translated by Richard E. Fisher
originally published in Sweden 1971; this edition 1992 by R&S Books
Carpenter Anderson lives in a Carl Larson-esque house with his many children. It’s Christmas Eve, and while his wife and kids gather round the warm hearth, cracking nuts and playing games, Carpenter Anderson tiptoes out to the woodshed.
That’s where he’s stashed his Santa suit and a wooden sled loaded down with “a big sack full of Christmas presents.” When Anderson starts across his icy yard, though, his feet go out from under him and with a flop and a whoosh he’s riding that sled down the road, smack into another sled. This one is steered by a little, white-bearded fellow. Calls himself Santa Claus. Anderson goes along with the joke.
Santa suggests swapping places for a bit. Anderson can visit his children, and he’ll visit Anderson’s with the presents. Anderson agrees to this, though he doesn’t have anything to give Santa’s children. “Aren’t you a carpenter?” asks Santa. He’s quite sure that with some wood, nails, and a knife, Anderson can come up with some gifts for the Claus household.
Carpenter Anderson does indeed come up with some beautiful gifts for Mrs. Santa and the elf children. He’s that clever with a piece of wood! It’s quite a Christmas Eve for all concerned.
This is a happy, imaginative story, illustrated in warm, fetching watercolors that include many quaint Scandinavian touches. A treat for ages 4 and up.
Lotta’s Christmas Surprise, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland
originally published in Sweden in 1977; first English translation, 1978; this edition 1990 by R&S Books
We have thoroughly enjoyed the stories of the irrepressible, unruly Lotta and her siblings, Jonas and Maria, though they are less well known in the U.S. Lotta has a big heart, which puts her bullheadedness and peevishness in perspective at the end of the day. She’s a lovable little rascal.
It’s Christmastime which means — of course! — time to get a tree from the market. So imagine the numb despair when Dad shares the bad news that “there’s not a Christmas tree for sale in the whole town.” Seems that heavy snows made it difficult to trundle as many trees out of the forest and the shopkeepers in the square are plum sold out. Nothing anyone can do about it.
Christmas without a tree is a glum prospect. Lotta, however, has been boasting recently about the fact that she can do anything. “I can do anything — almost!” she announces over and over to her underwhelmed family. Now Jonas lays down the gauntlet: “You said you could do anything, Lotta, so get us a Christmas tree.”
You’ll enjoy this long-ish story of the small-but-determined Lotta and how she manages to procure a tree for her family. Illustrated by Ilon Wikland — my edition is in full color. So much happiness plus the charm of a Swedish household — I spy lingonberries spilling over the pancakes! Ages 3 and up.
Pippi Longstocking’s After-Christmas Party, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Michael Chesworth, translated by Stephen Keeler
originally published in Sweden in 1950; this edition published in 1996 by Viking
Surely you all know Pippi Longstocking, that feisty, unconventional lass from Villa Villekulla. This story was written by Lindgren shortly after the original book was published, but was not translated into English for more than 40 years.
The translator notes that one Swedish tradition is the plundering of the Christmas tree before it is taken down. All those gingerbread hearts and baskets of goodies that decorate the tree are gathered up by the children. That’s the cultural background for Pippi hosting this splendid After-Christmas party.
She invites all the kids in town, of course. Pippi doesn’t do anything half way. When they arrive, there’s such a tree to behold! Blazing with huge candles, covered with “great big gingerbread men and huge baskets made of tin foil and enormous twists of toffee and, of course, lovely Christmas crackers that you pull at each end.” And dozens of jolly presents!
But that’s not all. There’s an igloo to gather in for hot chocolate and cream cake, and a crazy-steep sledding hill…off the roof! Pippi delights in providing for all her friends, as well as a little newcomer who wanders shyly in. It’s an extraordinarily merry party that should set visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads! Ages 4 and up.
Tomten’s Christmas Porridge, written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist, translated by Arden Haug
first published in Sweden in 1991; published in the U.S. in 1991 by Skandisk
If you’re at all familiar with Scandinavian lore, you’ll have heard of the tomtens, wee folk who live on Swedish farms watching over the welfare of man and beast. They’re secretive. Never seen by humans. Yet every Christmas Eve the farm family sets out a bowl of creamy, sweet Christmas porridge as a sort of tip of the hat to their tomten. A thanks for his protection.
If that porridge isn’t delivered, you’d better watch out because all out of keeping with his size is a tomten’s temper! If he’s overlooked on Christmas Eve, he’s sure to visit mischief and trouble of one sort and another on the farm.
Yet that’s exactly what’s about to happen on little Anna’s farm this Christmas. Mamma tomten can feel it in her bones. The family is growing away from tradition. They’re talking about a fellow named Santa Claus, for goodness sake! And forgetting all about tomtens. Pappa tomten is sure to strew unhappiness about the farm for the whole next year unless that porridge appears. Can Mamma tomten figure out a way to make everyone happy?
This exciting adventure is accompanied by Haug’s thoroughly-Swedish illustrations. Warm interiors of pine, woven linens, candlelight, julboks, ginger hearts, and round rye loaves hanging to dry adorn these pages. Plus lots of darling, red-capped tomten children. It’s a longish story. Read it aloud with children ages 4 and up.
And here are some other Scandinavian Christmas stories I’ve previously reviewed: