Snowy or not, one of the best places to go in in Minnesota for some Christmas cheer is the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. I just finished reading Michael Booth’s clever and insightful book about the Scandinavians, Almost Nearly Perfect People, so I was particularly motivated for an encounter with a place that offers a chance to rub elbows with so many fair-haired folks in intricately patterned sweaters.
This time of year, the Institute’s gorgeous Turnblad Mansion is festooned with trees, trolls, yule goats, and young women dressed as Lucia, flaming candles in their hair and all.
Six of the mansion’s 33 rooms are decorated each according to the Christmas customs of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and this year Minneapolis’s Museum of Russian Art, too. All these countries seem to have a fascination with mischief making trolls or elves, called variously tomte, nisse, jelasvieran, and joulupukki. (According to Booth, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in elves.) Whatever you call them, they’re great fun.
Another draw at ASI any time of year is its terrific restaurant Fika with some of the best meatballs you’ll ever have, and no lutefisk in sight. Gone are the days of tasteless white Scandinavian food. Chefs such as Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson have changed all that. Check him out at his restaurant Faviken in Sweden on Netflix’s “Mind of a Chef.”
Finally, the ASI gift shop will make you want to be a Scandinavian even if you’re not.