Since both authors are professional photographers, it is to be expected that the photographs in this book are all excellent and many are artistic. I was in a dilemma as to how many stars I should give to rate this book. As a Christmas album it deserves at least five stars. However, as a book about Christmas customs I would only give it three (therefore on average I give it four).
Firstly, I would like to say that the content of the book is often written in a very warm and readable way and it is full of childhood reminiscences and vivid description. For other readers I must admit, this style might well be preferable. Personally, I had hoped that the book would have had a much greater folklore content (something analogous with Kathleen Stokker's "Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land", 2000). There is a minimal amount of interesting allusions to folk customs. However, they are not described in detail. Moreover, another problem comes from the actual translation into English. A translator should never translate certain words. For instance, on p. 32 there is a reference to the St.Lucia day (Dec. 13th) custom of boys "wearing tall, funnel-shaped hats (like dunce caps)". It would have been nice to have included the actual Swedish name for this cap (some Swedish friends of mine call it a 'strut' or 'cone' but I am not sure if there is a 'proper' name as well?). Swedish is one of the languages I speak and I believe that more Swedish terms would have improved the work and given more local flavour. Similarly, on p.12 there is a reference to the "Advent candelabra" with four candles (one for each week of Advent). Here it should have been explained that this is called an 'adventjusstarka'. Again the ubiquitous "Christmas goat" should also have been given its proper name (julbock). Such a detail is important since the word 'julbock' is very different from the related cognate terms of the Finnish 'joulupukki' (who is Santa himself) and the Norwegian 'julebukking' (which refers to Christmas mumming). Likewise, "Santa's rice pudding" on p. 69 in which there is a hidden almond is called 'risgryngrot' (with an umlaut on the 'o'). This reminds me of the lucky coin hidden in the Greek 'vasilopita' or St. Basil's new year pie). Moreover, the "sheaf of straw" mentioned on p. 44 which is a bundle of oats left outside for the birds is called a 'julkarve'( with an accent on the 'a' and which corresponds to the Norwegian 'julenek'). There are indeed some fascinating references to traditions such as the fortune-telling with lead (molybdomancy) on New Year's day. I also enjoyed the superstitions mentioned in connection with the early church service on Christmas day (on p.121). This service is actually called the 'julottan' - again a word that the authors had neglected to share. There are also several basic details and customs which have not been included. For instance, no mention is made of the lucia buns being called 'lussekatter'(i.e. Lucy cats) and neither is there any mention of the custom of 'kasta julskomme' or throwing a type of braided straw figure (the 'julbock' is just one such type). This custom was performed as a joke on a neighbour's door or as a courting ritual. Another weakness is that the photographs (though beautifully taken) are not labelled. Captions would have been most useful. For instance, I wanted to know the significance (and word for) the oranges that are studded with cloves in photographs on pages 57 and 132. I have met this custom in the Ionian islands where it was called a 'prokado portokali' and it was given to solicit gifts on New Year's day. It is also reminiscent of the Welsh 'calennig'. It should also be mentioned that the book provide many enjoyable recipes (even if the names for these recipes are not supplied) as well as some practical tips about making Christmas crackers and a gingerbread house. The authors have done a great deal of work and, despite my comments (coloured by my own personal taste and preferences), I am sure that this would be the ideal Christmas book for many readers. If you are looking for a beautiful Christmas souvenir from Sweden then it is the perfect gift. For this reason I would actually buy another copy of it for certain friends - however, I could not buy it for any of my colleagues. Dr. M. Sfaellou.