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(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
The Swedes, it seems, are creatures of habit. Every Thursday they eat yellow split pea soup, traditionally followed by small pancakes topped with berries, and they've been doing that for hundreds of years. On the first Sunday in December, they light the first Advent candle and one every Sunday after that until there are four.
"It's to symbolize the transition from darkness to light," explains Katerina Tyrrling, wife of Sweden's military attachÃ©, Stephan Tyrrling, as she shows me around her beautifully decorated home in Herzliya Pituah in which she has already hosted several Christmas parties and a fund-raising bazaar.
"November in Sweden can be very depressing, it's dark and nothing much happens," she continues. "Once December comes, we can start to think about lighting up the home. December 13 is Santa Lucia Day, one of the shortest days of the year, and girls dress up in white dresses with a crown of candles, while boys carry a candle and wear a kind of white pajama."
Among the myriad hand-made decorations around her home are boy and girl dolls dressed for Santa Lucia Day. Candles and light are everywhere, some real and some electric. Chasing away the darkness is taken very seriously in Sweden.
Katerina surprised me somewhat when she told me she has been working on the house since October, but explained that she had to go back to Sweden for a visit and wanted the house ready for the bazaar that was being organized in mid-November to raise money for charity. Many of the items which were sold are still on display and include handmade decorations and greeting cards made by the Shoebox Ladies, a group of diplomatic wives who raise money for various Israeli charities.
Anyone can hang up decorations but this house bears the imprint of a professional interior designer and a talented dressmaker to boot. Katerina is originally a hairdresser who decided to take up home decoration for fun. Her sewing talents are evident in all the beautifully dressed dolls on display, including the Rodin "Thinker" statue at the entrance done up as Santa Claus. All the dolls are simple, wooden Ikea puppets given different identities depending on their costume - some are Santa Lucia dolls, some wear Swedish national costume and some are Father Christmas.
The house itself is a splendid large mansion much too big for a couple, but fully occupied when the five sons, two from her first marriage and three from her husband's, come to visit. The entrance, usually empty, is now occupied by a large round table, improvised from a folding wooden top on a smaller table, and this has been covered in red felt with jute runners around it. On this is perched a smaller round table, and the whole edifice displays all kinds of Christmas motifs, lit red candles and fir branches. Two wooden wine kegs stand on either side of the table, one for red wine and one for white.
Several small trees sparkle with fairy lights, as do the fresh flower arrangements. The sitting area, composed of normally rather dull beige sofas, has been brightened up with red tartans and plain red fabrics, all of which were bought in Tel Aviv.
The two large Christmas trees are separated because she feels they have different characters. The one at the entrance is daintily covered in all her handmade trinkets, while the one in the lounge has more bought decorations and gifts that were received over the year.
The fireplace in the dining room is a work of art, with four thick white candles burning in the grate and the mantelpiece covered in very realistic "snow." In the all wooden kitchen with its abundance of cabinets and central working island, I spot several boxes of the gula arter, the special yellow peas that are going to be turned into Thursday soup. Naturally these are imported by the truckload from Sweden.
In the living room are portraits of the Swedish royal family and a mannequin dressed in the Swedish national costume. "It's on display here all year and on our national day I wear it for receptions," explains Katerina.
The central spiral staircase is also decorated in fir branches and Christmas baubles. Surveying this incredible winter wonderland, it's hard to imagine that the Mediterranean sun is still blazing outside.
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