Exquisite dining and St. Lucia’s Day are a Nobel Prize for Sweden

Saint Lucia's Day celebration in Sweden (wikimedia)

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, November 22, 2014 – What do Thanksgiving and the Nobel Prize ceremonies have in common? They are both highlighted by a gala feast that rivals any other meal of the year. With that in mind here is a little food for thought.

With the growth of international air service, off-season travel is becoming increasingly popular and, believe it or not, Sweden has much to offer during the winter.

December 10th is the day when Stockholm is abuzz with activity for the awarding of the Nobel Prizes. All except for the Peace Prize, that is, which is presented annually in Oslo, Norway. Approximately 1,300 winners, families and invited guests attend the Nobel Banquet which has been held in the Blue Hall of Stockholm’s City Hall since 1974.

Stockholm City Hall, home of the Nobel Banquet (wikimedia)

Stockholm City Hall, home of the Nobel Banquet Iwikipedia)
Stockholm City Hall, home of the Nobel Banquet (wikipedia)

For the first 29 years of the Nobel ceremonies the banquet took place in the Hall of Mirrors at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. Despite several changes in venue for the banquet over the past century, Hotel Grand still serves as the official headquarters and residence for the prize winners.

Each Nobel Banquet has a theme which is represented by the decorations and the entertainment during the evening’s festivities. Some 23,000 flowers consisting of lilies, orchids, gladioli and roses, are grown especially for the occasion and flown in from the Italian Riviera in San Remo where Alfred Nobel spent the last years of his life.

Nobel banquet setting 2006  (wikimedia)
Nobel banquet setting 2006 (wikimedia)

As one might expect, the menus for the festivities are a highlight, but the selection process is almost as revered as the Nobel prizes themselves. Three chefs with international credentials are selected to compete by submitting menus for tasting and testing each September.

There is more to the process than simply designing a culinary feast for the Nobel laureates however. Though distinctly Scandinavian, the menus must be designed to accommodate the various cultural and religious considerations of the select guests at the banquet.

Once chosen, the menu remains a secret until the actual day of the feast.

Old Town of Gamla Stan in Stockholm (wikipedia)
Old Town of Gamla Stan in Stockholm (wikipedia)

But here is the hook for traveler’s visiting Stockholm, which is something that can only be done in that city. While most people will never experience the aura of participating in the actual Nobel Prize festivities, it is still possible to enjoy the exact meal served at any Nobel Banquet between 1901 until 2004.

With a little advance notice, Stockholm’s City Hall Cellar, known as Stadshuskallaren in Swedish, will prepare any Nobel dinner for its guests. As an example here is the Nobel menu from the year 1980:

Saumon fumé aux épinards
Œuf poché

Filet de renne aux chanterelles
Sauce Akvavit, pommes lyonnaise
Salade et gelée

Parfait Glace Nobel
Petits fours
G. H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, Brut
Château Landreau 1976
Eau minérale Ramlösa


Long John Whisky
Bols Silver Top Dry Gin

Visitors who participate in this rare dining experience receive a certificate featuring their names and the designation of the Nobel menu they selected.

Another tradition which has been observed throughout the years in Sweden and Norway is known as St. Lucy’s Day. Today the feast day of Santa Lucia is also popular in several other countries.

Saint Lucia ceremony  (wikipedia)
Saint Lucia ceremony (wikipedia)

The Lucia, which roughly approximates the shortest day of the year, is celebrated on December 13th with a procession of girls dressed in white gowns. The lead girl wears a crown of candles (or lights), while the others follow carrying a single candle.

At the same time, everyone sings a familiar traditional melody from Naples, Italy as the young women enter the room. The candles are symbolic of the fire that would not take St. Lucia’s life when she was sentenced to death by burning.

A second metaphorical meaning of the candles is highlighted by Santa Lucia’s victory over darkness.

In the early 19th century it became a Swedish tradition for the oldest daughter to awaken her parents on the morning of the Lucia with coffee and St. Lucia buns while wearing her candle-crown and singing the Neopolitan song. If there were other daughters in the family, they would follow the oldest sister.

Today many cities throughout Scandinavia elect an official Lucia for the community and then have a public procession to honor the maids. Though not an official holiday, the tradition began in 1927 in Stockholm when a local newspaper chose the Lucia for the city that year.

Over the decades the Lucia has become a favorite occasion. Many universities hold large formal dinner parties for students to celebrate together before returning to their families for Christmas.

Stockholm harbor, best of the old, best of the new  (wikipedia))
Stockholm harbor, best of the old, best of the new (wikipedia))

In many ways the Lucia represents a simpler time as a celebration of the re-birth of light. It is not difficult to see why such an event would become so popular during the Christmas season in a land where the short days of winter are filled with darkness.

The experiences of a sumptuous banquet and the moving local tradition of the Lucia are truly a Nobel Prize for travelers to Sweden in winter.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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