Baruth: Plundering the Christmas Tree
02/06/09 7:55AM  Download MP3
(HOST) For Swedes, Christmas lasts forever. In Commentator Philip Baruth’s house, Christmas ended officially only a few days ago. But it went out with a very unsettling bang - at least for Philip.
(BARUTH) It’s February now, and you might think that the time for Christmas stories is long past. But you would be wrong. At least, if you live with a Swede you would be wrong. Swedes start their Christmas partying long before the rest of the world, and they end it only when the fir tree has shed every last razor-sharp needle onto the living room carpet.Only then, in late January or even early February, are they finally willing to let it go.
The very last Christmas event is called Julgransplundring, or in English, the Plundering of the Christmas Tree. As rituals go, it starts out normal enough: after packing away the ornaments and the strings of christmas lights, Swedes hang candy from the dry branches with little pieces of red thread. And like many things Swedish, the tree looks undeniably cute and wholesome and Old-World when it’s finished.
And the ritual remains cute and wholesome for another few moments. It becomes something like a holiday version of Pin The Tail on the Donkey, with one member of the family standing up to be solemnly blindfolded by the rest. And then, as they spin that person slowly in a circle, they sing a song about how they’re spinning that person slowly in a circle - I won’t sing it here, but it involves a lot of repetition of the phrase, "Snur arunt," which means, "Turn around." And the effect of all this snurring arunt is that the blindfolded person is finally completely disoriented.
And that’s when all pretense of cuteness is at an end. Because then the ritual demands that you put a big old pair of scissors in the blindfolded person’s hand - and not their good hand, but their bad hand. So for right-handed people, the scissors go in the left hand, and vice versa. And then that person - blind, dizzy, clumsy-handed - lurches across the living room wielding an immense pair of shears.
The oddest thing of all is that no one born in Sweden finds anything even remotely problematic in this equation.
Now, you’d think that the only way this could get any more dangerous is if you set the tree itself on fire. But again, you’d be wrong. Because kids love candy, and because kids love to see what’s going on in any situation, all the kids in the room begin quickly closing in to see exactly where the lurching scissor-wielding person will make contact with the denuded Christmas tree. And of course, if you’re the one with the shears, you’re trying to maximize your chances of making contact with threads or candy, so rather than small probes in the dark with the points of the scissors, Swedes tend to favor big, sweeping horizontal slashing moves instead.
To an American watching, it’s like Nightmare on Elm Street - except everyone’s singing. And if you finally just can’t take it anymore, and you leap off the couch and scream for the kids to duck out of the way of the scissors, well, everyone looks at you like the excitable American.
I’ve been married now for ten years and every few years my in-laws pull out some new ritual, with some new deadly weapon: some way of marking the coming of Spring, perhaps, with a dish of crushed walnuts and -- I don't know -- a staple gun.
I never know what’s involved exactly, but I know that I must smile and hope that Love will see us all through.