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Baruth: Plundering the Christmas Tree

02/06/09 7:55AM By Philip Baruth
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(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.

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