Growing up in Australia, where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, I’d aways wanted to experience what I call a ‘Christmas Card’ Christmas.
When I was a kid, most Christmas cards still featured traditional European winter scenes, you see. And when you’re tucking into a full traditional roast in 40 degree heat, your flimsy paper cracker crown sticking to the sweat on your forehead, the idea of having a snowball fight in front of a snow-covered gingerbread cottage seems incredibly appealing.
I wouldn’t say it was the main reason I moved to the UK. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a consideration.
Well, it quickly became apparent I wasn’t going to get my Christmas Card Christmas in the UK – well, not down here in London, anyway.
So my second festive season in the northern hemisphere I booked a cheap flight to Stockholm with Ryanair.
Stockholm didn’t let me down. I stayed in an artist’s apartment overlooking the Christmas market in Gamla Stan. I drank glögg and ate pepparkakor cut into festive shapes at Skansen. And walked cobbled streets that twinkled under Christmas lights in the December gloom.
But do you know what impressed me most?
All the tiny shops and cafes in Gamla Stan laid small branches cut from pine trees at their doorways for customers to wipe their boots on before entering.
It was a really effective way of cleaning snow and slush off your boots. But more than that, the crushed pine needles gave off a wonderfully festive smell.
You don’t get that from a Christmas card, let me tell you.
Main image: Glögg and pepparkakor (Peter Moore)