The Embassy itself has successfully moved beyond being more than just an Embassy, but also acts as a cultural house better known as the House of Sweden. The House of Sweden is open to the Public and hosts a variety of events to showcase Swedish – and Icelandic – culture and traditions. With the Georgetown Waterfront as the backdrop, the Embassy was a perfect location for this event.
The Christmas Bazaar may be the most popular Christmas event in Washington DC attended not only by Swedes and fellow Scandinavians, but also by many local Americans and other nationals in the DC Metro area.
I attended the event with my 9-month old daughter in tow, and was quickly reminded of the event’s popularity as soon as we turned the corner and the Embassy came into view. Around it I spotted a line with no end. At the door, a security guard meticulously let only one person in at the time for every one person that would leave.
I arrived a bit on the late side and instantly got concerned whether we would make it past the door in time to enjoy the delicious Swedish treats. Luckily, I met a few fellow Scandinavians in line and spent some time chatting about our favorite subjects… skiing and whether we would see any snow soon. Before we knew it, the door was in sight.
Due to increased security, parents were asked to park their strollers outside before heading in. I looked down at my daughter, who was happily kicking her legs in her Babybjörn, and exhaled with relief that I had opted for the carrier and a backpack over a stroller. Win!
As soon as we passed through the door, I was greeted by the sweet smell of gløgg, and instantly forgot about the wait time. I grabbed a cup and headed straight for the cafe where a long smorgasbord filled with various open-faced sandwiches, cakes, and hot dogs awaited. My eyes lit up in awe! Unfortunately, this quickly changed to shock when I noticed the prices: $7 for a piece of bread with half an egg and roughly 8 small shrimp. Another obstacle, I had to first buy tickets for food at another table before I could actually get the food, so I got back out of line and went to get my food tickets.
Now, tickets in hand, I headed back to get my food, and walked away with a piece of egg and shrimp, a piece of gravlax, a slice of the Swedish princess cake (prinsesstårta), a water, and $23 poorer. Again, the money spent was quickly forgotten when I indulged my food. Especially the princess cake, which was absolutely divine and tasted exactly like home.
Next up, shopping… This is where the Bazaar really impresses. You can get everything from cozy Swedish hats to toys, jewelry, Christmas decorations, and home decor. The perfect place to buy some Christmas gift. I got a cozy little hat for my daughter and a nice swedish design necklace for myself.
The highlight of the day is the Saint Lucia. Saint Lucia is one of the dearest Christmas celebrations throughout Scandinavia, but particularly in Sweden. Every year on December 13th, children and youth, draped in white robes and with candles in their hair, make up a Lucia train (‘Lucia tåg’) and perform traditional Christmas hymns in schools, office spaces, churches.. everywhere.
The Saint Lucia procession at the Swedish Bazaar takes place outside on the doorsteps of the Embassy. I suspect this isn’t done to make everyone feel more like they’re in Sweden -it’s cold – but to usher people out of the Embassy and close the event. I made my way out the door and grabbed a spot right in front of the stairs.
About 15 minutes later, we heard the faint singing of the choir, and there they were, dressed in white and led by not only one, but two Lucia brides. My daughter was mesmerized, just as I was as a kid when I saw a Saint Lucia procession, but to my disappointment, the candles they carried were not live. Knowing that live candles are still used in most of Sweden – and Denmark for that matter – I gathered that they were likely not used due to a US rule banning the use of live candles in a young girls’ hair.
They lined the stairs, and captivated the crowd, who happily sang along every time an American Christmas song was performed. And, as we stood there, in the dusk and cold, at the steps of the Swedish embassy, bathed in the Christmas lights around the Georgetown Waterfront, maybe we felt just a little bit like home.
I’d highly recommend a visit to the Swedish Bazaar. While it’s too late this year, there’s always next year. And don’t forget, December 13th is still coming up, so there’s still time to experience a traditional Saint Lucia Procession. If not in person, then online through Swedish TV.