I’ve written before about my love of London, or more specifically the love I have for London’s diversity and especially my particular part of east London.
Until fairly recently, I had no idea there was an active Swedish community in London — not until one of the girl‘s friends from her show choir invited us to celebrate Swedish Midsummer at the end of June. Rotherhithe park was filled with Swedes in white dresses and green leaf headdresses picnicking, drinking schnaps (complete with the obligatory drinking song and toast with each glass), and celebrating the midsummer in a traditional sort of way. Even though the event was organised by the Swedish church, it was still very traditionally pagan.
It’s one of the things I love about London at this time of year: all the different Christmas markets popping up in the various parts of London — who knew there was a small part of the city around Marylebone referred to as “Sweden town”? Almost six months later, we were back in the Swedish community this weekend with a Swedish Christmas market.
We found the Swedish church without trouble and were amused that the sign outside specified “English spoken”. Apparently it’s been the centre of the Swedish community in London for several hundred years. The girl had opted to wear her red-and-white knitted Christmas poncho and a matching woolen hat: as we entered the church, the rector admired her knitwear and commented how she looked very Norwegian — our Swedish friend Linda later explained that this kind of chunky knitwear is very common in Norway.
Off-topic, I didn’t see a whole lot of people when I was in Norway (other than the adventurers I was with) but one place where we were staying was a popular spot for snowmobilers to stop and eat before moving on. These people all wore the kind of ugly Christmas jumpers that are becoming very fashionable in the UK in recent years.
Inside the Swedish church, the market was largely being held in the basement — each stall had a handmade wooden sign, indicating in Swedish what they were offering, and the place was packed. Better yet, you’d occasionally hear snatches of conversation like “It actually gets busier than this” and “I had no idea it would be this crowded, is it always like this?”. While at some stalls you practically had to push your way to the front or push your way through the crowd, it was a good kind of crowded — with a positive atmosphere, rather than one of impatience or stress (unlike a busy shop around Christmastime).
The market wasn’t very big, and after I saw it as a prize on the tombola I probably spent almost as much time searching for a particular wooden decoration (a wooden heart with a picture of a black cat inside it) for sale than I had walking around and exploring the market originally. Nobody seemed to be able to tell me for sure where I could buy this ornament from — the stall especially for Christmas ornaments (like the traditional Gävle goat) almost laughed at the idea they had anything with cats and pointed me to a different part to try, who in turn pointed me back to where I started. Just the same, I came away with a Swedish “jultomte”, a Father Christmas made of felt for our tree — a man consisting of just a hat, nose and white beard. Some had grey beards instead of white; this is something I should look up.
I don’t know where my work will take me next on my travels, though I am tempted to try and contrive a visit to somewhere with a good Christmas market — but even if I don’t make it out of England again before the end of 2012, I know there will be more interesting Christmas markets to be found in London.