My First Jul In Sweden

‘We celebrate on the 24th, watch Donald Duck and eat ham with mustard,’ Sebastian told me months ago when the subject of Jul first surfaced. As my first Jul in Sweden approached (at an unfathomable speed), the all encompassing magical festive spirit – which had been laying dormant ever since I still believed that he existed – awoke.


Sweden and England share some similarities when it comes to celebrating Jul. One being the mammoth decision of ‘whose house this year?’ I was quietly ecstatic when I learned we would be heading North to Hagfors to spend Jul with Sebastian’s family.


The sky was crowded with stars when we started our four hour car journey, and I watched the road side in the hope of seeing at least one of the 400,000 moose that roam Sweden. But the giant beasts were wise and stayed in the shadows. Only mice, deer and fox made themselves known to our headlights.


When we arrived in Hagfors, Pia and Peter had illuminated the dark garden. I could feel the spell of a new experience taking hold. Inside in every room white candles burned, lit paper stars hung from window frames and straight legged straw Jul Goats stood to attention.


Pia had gone for a minimal colour palate with her decorations – red, white and grey with accents of green here and there.


A petite Christmas tree was guarded by Father Christmas and two Jul Goats. I could see some of the presents stacked underneath were tagged with my name…


On the morning of the 24th (Swedes celebrate Jul the day before we do in England) I woke up to a breakfast of Risgrynsgröt, a semi-sweet rice porridge served hot with milk and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious in its sweet spiciness, and I found enough comfort in one bowl to see me through into the new year.


We made a brief but memorable visit to the home of Sebastian’s Grandmother’s  where I found myself amidst dozens of merry, polite Swedes. I was introduced to members of the Svedlund clan, including Riccardo who originally came from El Salvador and married into the Svedlund family, and Julia, a biologist with a burning desire to have a career as a novelist. We ate handmade pepperkakor while talking about the Swedes obsession with coffee and the sad reality of the job situation in Sweden.



Sebastian was always animated when her talked of the Swedish julboard, and I knew a little of what to expect, but the quantity and variety was staggering. Alongside three different types of herring, I found myself plating up halved eggs topped with shrimp and caviar (it was my first time eating caviar and it went down like a dream), salmon, prinskorv (prince sausauge), köttbullar (Swedish meatballs, every family has their own recipe), beetroot salad, pork ribs, Janssons Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) and julskinka (Christmas ham). Pork is something of a sacred tradition with the julboard. A few pigs always made it past the fall slaughter, and would instead be slaughtered on the shortest day of the year – the 13th of December (Lucia Day).


Come 3pm we had all congregated around the TV in the living room for the annual viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, ‘From All of Us to All of You.’ It dawned on me that the entire day had been arranged as so not a minute of the show would be missed. Jiminy Cricket had the role of presenting fragments from Disney cartoons including Robin Hood, Lady And The Tramp and The Jungle Book. It’s the same format year in year out, that is except for the ending when they present something new that Disney have in the works.


After Donald Duck, Sebastian’s step-father disappeared and returned in his guise as Tomten. He moved slowly across the garden, a lantern swaying from one hand. Little Tyra wasn’t in the least bit afraid. She welcomed Tomten in, and as the sky darkened, he handed out our gifts one by one. When it was time for him to pick up his lantern and leave, Little Tyra presented him with an orange and a clementine for the ‘long’ journey home. I rediscovered Jultide magic this Jul in the far north, and I intend on holding it close and never letting go.


Jul Thrifting & My Winter Berry Crown

Every time I step over the threshold of a thrift store, my senses spark like flint on steel, and I’m ready to burrow through intriguing odds and ends on the hunt for something extraordinary that I can give a new home.

I thrift throughout the year, but in winter, and especially around this festive time, thrifting feels like a special kind of magic. This blog is called The Girl With Cold Hands for good reason – winter is my season! My mood sits well with the cold, snow and early nights.

Which is why, when I see baskets stuffed with knitted scarves crafted from the thickest wool, Tomtes hiding under enormous pointed hats and fluffy bears and Jul goats made from straw and red ribbons standing stocky and noble, my hands can’t help but tremble, my lips can’t help but shape themselves into a half-moon.

Living in Sweden, I had imagined that come Jul, I would be surrounded by legions of Nordic sweaters when I went thrifting. Sadly, I haven’t found this to be the case. Every now and then I’ll encounter a Lusekofte which has found its way across the border from Norway. It was an entirely different situation in Iceland. When I visited Reykjavik the thrift stores were waist deep in Lopapeysa sweaters. I suppose the Swedes hold their traditional Scandinavian knits close.

The other day I went thrifting with a purpose – to find things that I could use as props in my winter photoshoots. (I’ve recently started releasing a weekly photo series, so I can keep continuously pushing myself as a photographer.) I found this beautiful wreath snuggled away and quickly whisked it away to the changing rooms to see if it fit on my head. I suppose I was the only person who actually tried on a Jul decoration in Emmaus that day! I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect fit. I took it home with me for 20 krona, then, later, out into the forest where, with the work of the great John Bauer in my mind, I captured this self-portrait.

P.S. The white shawl was also thrifted. 25 krona from Myrorna.

Winter Witch VI.jpg


On The Shortest Day

Yesterday the sun didn’t show itself and the fog never lifted. Unsurprisingly I had a difficult time staying within our four four walls. The forest was calling me.

After following a path I’d only walked once before, I found myself in a part of the forest that appeared far more ancient than any of the other places I’ve wandered in this part of Sweden.

Most of the trees had branches formed like witches fingers, and were enveloped in linchen that hung like old skin.  I felt as though I was wandering from one John Bauer painting into another. I didn’t want to leave my new wandering grounds, but the dark was quick in coming. I’m going to be sad to see the days lengthening, I treasure the early dark.


Our Holiday In The Motherland : Our Last Day & Walking In Studley Royal Park

Do you remember the film The Secret Garden? The 1993 version? It was my favourite thing to watch as a child. I received it on video one Christmas, and kept it at my Nanna’s house, convinced that if I took it home my brothers would end up breaking it. I don’t know what happened to that video tape. I hope it’s stacked away inside a cardboard box, snuggled up next to White Fang and Call Of The Wild – two other valuable films from my early years.

Much of The Secret Garden was shot in Fountains Hall and the grounds of Studley Royal Park, a World Heritage Site within short walking distance of Ripon, the third smallest city in England, and from where the majority of my family hail. The park’s most valuable feature is Fountains Abbey, one of England’s largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries. Founded in the 12th Century by a small group of monks, Fountains Abbey would grow to become one of the wealthiest and most influential Cistercian abbeys in Britain. That is until  1539 when Henry VIII commanded the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Following The Cold Of The Silver NIght.jpg

As a child, my Dad would spend hours roaming Studley’s steep-sided valley, and pitching himself over fences to avoid paying the entrance fee to the Fountains Abbey. When my siblings and I were growing up, my Dad would often bring us to Studley (rarely Fountains because it was too expensive, and pitching four kids under ten over barbed wire fences wasn’t that simple). He would point out significant spots, like where he was once chased by an irritable stag after snapping its photograph and blocked up ‘hidden tunnels’ which, he claimed, were once used by the Abbey’s monks.

Bringing Sebastian to this most important of places felt somewhat necessary. Our family has explored the acres of parkland for over half a century, and I felt that Sebastian, as the latest addition to the Metcalfe clan, ought to experience this valuable part of our history for himself. I held the belief that it would, in a way, enable him to understand me – and my family – on a deeper level.


On our way into the park, I had my fingers tightly crossed that we would encounter at least one of the five hundred deer (Red, Fallow and Sika) which freely roam the park. The gods were on our side that day, and within moments of us crossing the cattle grid into the grounds, we lurched to a stop as there, standing mere meters from the side of the road was a doe and foal. I couldn’t have wished for a moment more perfect.

There was no visit to Fountains on this occasion – you need a full day there and we didn’t have that – but we did make our way through the valley. We passed by ancient trees, many of which are over three hundred years old, most standing, some fallen, their great roots exposed to the sun…a sun which had been shining for us since we’d first arrived in England.


It felt somewhat surreal, but gorgeously so, to be walking the familiar route as a thirty year old English woman with her Swedish partner. I remember the walk taking forever when I was small, sometimes we didn’t even make it to the end before our little legs were tired and we needed to turn back. But Sebastian and I were at the boundary of the park before we could work up a sweat. My Dad retold tales from when he was a lad, and it was all almost too much for my emotions to take.

Sebastian went on to meet my Nanna, and I was so proud that he was able to decipher her thick Yorkshire accent. Bringing Sebastian to where my family originate was the most beautiful way to round off our short but blissful trip to the motherland.





Our Holiday In The Motherland : Climbing Roseberry Topping

In my previous Holiday To The Motherland post I mentioned that when we first found out that we’d be going to England, I made a mental note in my head of all the places I wanted to take Sebastian to…Roseberry Topping was also on that list.


This iconic, strangely shaped hill (though as a child I always, with great pride, called it a mountain…) can almost be seen from my parent’s home. We used to drive past it every day for several years, and I would press my nose against the car window, achingly hungry for the view, desperately eager for the adventure of the climb.


When I did eventually climb it, it shook up my soul. I wanted to go higher, higher, higher. Little did I know then that explorer Captain James Cook used to climb Roseberry when he wasn’t working on his parent’s farm, and it was during these climbs that he came to the realization that exploration was to be his life’s work.



Roseberry has many different names, but the one my heart has always liked best is Odin’s Hill. Roseberry was sacred to the Norse settlers, and, in theory, where they worshiped the one eyed god. The Viking connection had always been of great significance to me, and to take my own Nord to the peak would be, I imagined, almost like closing a circle.


And it was. I was glowing as we hiked. Everything felt as it should as our breathing became more laboured, and we needed to look more carefully at where we were placing our feet. Despite having made many ascents to the peak, the view is always something which chokes me up.


From the top, we slowly turned clockwise to take everything in. From one view point we could see the vast industrial landscape of Teesside. From another just rolling moors for mile after mile. From another laid forests, fields and the blue swell of the North Sea. As we sat at the peak, squinting into the sun and eating hunks of stollen, I felt beautifully complete. Roseberry does that to you.





The Girl With Cold Hands : Jul Gift Guide

This Jul will be my first in Sweden, my first with Sebastian and his family. I can promise you…I haven’t trembled with excitement like I’m doing now since I was a child, and still believed it was Father Christmas who carefully arranged the presents under the tree, while his reindeer waited patiently on the roof of our lilliputian cottage.

Naturally, I wanted to do something to celebrate life, this blog and all of you! So, as a thank you for following me on my Swedish journey I have reduced the price of every product in my shop! You will have from today until the 13th of December to place orders.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the getting of gifts, please let me help alleviate some of the stress. Below you’ll find options galore for the loves in your life. My personal favourite is The Whispering Forest Acrylic Block.

For Her


After The Cold Of The Silver Night Chiffon Top – $26.64

flat_pencil_skirt,x1147-bg,ffffff.u1h.jpgWinter’s Touch Miniskirt – $29.60


From The Forest Laptop Skin – $23.68

tb,1200x1200,flat.2u1.jpgAutumn Mornings Tote Bag – $13.99

For Him


Woodpile Travel Mug – $18.74

mwo500xipad_2_snap-pad600x1000ffffff-u1The Family iPad case – $44.71


Not The Road Home Graphic T-Shirt – $27.62


Midday In Winter Drawstring Bag – $24.66

For Them


The Whispering Forest Acrylic Block – $22.99

tp,875x875,ffffff,f.6u1.jpgMorning Webs – $16.08


Her First Day To Breathe Framed Print – $68.91


Forest Dark Hardcover Journal – $15.78

Jul I Sverige : Making Orange Clove Pomanders

On arriving in Borås last Sunday after our trip to England, the city had decorated for Jul and was a sea of illuminated paper stars. It was so beautiful I could have spent the whole night drifting through the streets, taking in the gentle light at almost every window. In England we have a bad habit of going horribly overboard with the decorations. The Swedes, on the other hand, keep things simple.

I always look forward to when the sun dips below the horizon at the end of another day, but now it’s another, special kind of anticipation. I’m waiting for the glow from the stars in the windows of the apartment block just across the way from us. They will light up the nights until January.

Our own decorating has been delayed…but today I started in my own little way, by making an orange clove pomander. For as long as I can remember, my Mum has made these most fragrant of decorations around this time, and they’ve always been my favourite winter adornment. I’ve forever been weak for the intense, spicy, warming scent of cloves combined with the sweet, fruity, lush perfume of oranges, and seen as though this is my first Jul away from England, I thought it important I continue the tradition myself.

I’m admiring my pomander now, nestled among some evergreen and pine cones which I collected from the forest earlier today. I’m reflecting on how much I enjoyed the slow crafting process, when I was focused on nothing but carefully pressing one clove after another through the giving skin and flesh of the orange. I hadn’t felt so relaxed in months. As a Pagan, bringing the natural world into the home all year round is important, but especially so in winter when I pay homage to the old traditions that celebrate my most favourite time of year.








I Couldn’t Stay Out Of The Forest

The snow came, at least for a little while. In the few hours before sunrise and sunset, I would find myself in the forest, losing track of time entirely. When the snow started to thin out on the ground, the days heavy with fog made up for it.

When I look outside in the morning and am greeted by fog, I’m unable to stay indoors. I had a stuffed ‘to do’ list waiting for me to complete it the other day, but I’ve missed too many foggy mornings over the years because of my need to stick to a rigid schedule. No more will that happen. I don’t own a watch and I rarely take my phone out with me when I go into the forest. After a hurried breakfast I grabbed my camera without so much as a backward glance at my ‘to do’ list and headed out into the forest, hoping with all hope that the sun wouldn’t try to break through and obliterate the mystique.

I took a path I’d been wanting to explore further, and I walked and I walked and I walked, my eyes darting this way and that like a curious wolf pup seeing the world for the first time. I deeply relished the peace that came with moving further away from people.

I’ve always had that encouraging – yet stubborn – attitude of ‘just a bit further…’ I wanted to see what was over the next rise, where that stream was hurrying to, if the house behind the handmade gate was abandoned. I wear my curiosity like a cloak, and always take it with me to the forest.

I eventually turned around, somewhat reluctantly, when hunger started to knock against my stomach’s walls. I thought I’d been gone for an hour or so…and was shocked to discover almost four hours had passed since I’d left home. To say I’m thankful for my forest adventures is an understatement. They’re an essential part of my daily existence. I can’t imagine a life without them.







Goodbye Jack-O’-Lantern

Yesterday I lifted the lid off our Jack-O’-Lantern, reached inside his belly and pulled out the tea light. It was something of a solemn moment. We’ve been struggling to truly say goodbye to October and Halloween, and I’ve been burning the pumpkin every day since Sebastian calved him. There’s something so special about the smell that comes from a lit pumpkin. It reminds me of my childhood in our tiny miners cottage. When we would light the pumpkin, the whole cottage would hum with its comforting scent.

But yesterday, it dawned on me that instead of throwing him away, we could do something special with his body instead. I decided to take him out into the forest and leave him there for the creatures – and the little people – to enjoy. But first I needed to carve away the sinister grin that had been keeping us company through the long nights. I ensured all the burnt parts were cut away, and bagged up only the unblemished parts of the skin and flesh to take out with me.

It hadn’t snowed the night before, and the clear skies had gifted us with a covering of ice and the very first of winter’s icicles. Having already spent time in Sweden during winter I knew where they would be hanging, and scrambled up one steep embankment after another to admire nature’s delicate ornaments.