February 6th is Sami National Day in Sweden, and as I happened to take a solo afternoon trip to Skansen on February 5th, I stumbled upon some of the celebrations.

A word about Skansen in general, before I describe my experience. This “museum” is a must see if you are living in or visiting Stockholm. It is a unique and immersive journey through Sweden’s past. You walk along cobble-stone roads past preserved houses from hundreds of years ago. You can walk into the shops and old houses of wealthy merchants or rugged farmers. For those of you who have been to Connecticut, it is very reminiscent of Mystic Seaport – though while Mystic has captured the maritime culture of New England, Skansen focuses more on the farming culture in Sweden I would say, though it’s hard to simplify it that much. There is even a section of this massive outdoor museum that is a small zoo of Scandinavian animals. You can try to spot the wolves, watch the wolverines play and compete, and see the lynx jump for proffered meat.

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It. is. amazing. And it is not an option to miss it if you have the time.

I went to Skansen that day knowing I wouldn’t be able to see everything in only one afternoon. So I took my time and dedicated myself to the animals. I particularly wanted to listen to a talk about the reindeer that would be in English. I wandered through the place, getting turned around a couple times, and slowly began to get chilly. It was a cold, harsh day, but walking made it bearable, and I was happily distracted by what was around me.

The best part was that it had started to snow. Not a snow that was impeding. It wasn’t even sticking or building up to grab at my boots. It was simply there, landing on my lashes occasionally and lulling me into pure contentment as I walked through the past. Just as it is meditative for me to look down through thick ice and count the cracks, it is also a lesson in calm to look up into a snowy sky and try to follow individual snowflakes.

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The deer were wandering around their paddock when I got there, and they all crowded the woman who came to feed them. I listened to the woman but watched the deer eat the lichen that she had brought them. Her talk was interesting, but I didn’t learn anything new (that’s what happens when you grow up with a biologist for a dad). No matter, I could watch and learn from the deer themselves. As they walked, I listened for the clicking sounds their ankles made. I tried to imagine how they could possibly tell one set of clicking ankles from another. Somehow they do, and that is how calves can find their mothers again if they get lost, or how a lone reindeer can find its way through a blizzard back to the herd.

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As the talk was ending, a voice suddenly range out from over the ridge to our left. Someone was singing, or playing music very loudly, and all of our attention was caught by it. The woman informed us that this was Sami music, which was timed perfectly to follow her description of how the Sami people had tamed reindeer long ago and were the only ones allow to hunt them in Sweden.

I thanked her quickly and strode ahead of the rest of the crowd to get to the crest of the hill. There I found the celebration. A couple dozen people were gathered around the traditional Sami dwellings that are part of Skansen. A booth of food and some merchandise was set up and the air smelled like reindeer meat, mushrooms, and lingonberry. It was absolute heaven. But at first I didn’t see this – I wanted to see the singer and approached the performance with my camera filming.

I will need to find her name as soon as I finish writing, because for the life of me I can’t remember it right now. The type of singing she performed is Sami traditional yoik and it was impossibly beautiful. You will have to watch the video I took, though the quality is quite low (a new camera is coming soon!), to really understand. Here it is.

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When she finished singing her “Peace song” I turned to see what they were selling at this booth. It was covered in bright fabric and reindeer skins and the smells was literally mouthwateringly good. I bought one of each of the meals being sold so that I could try both. I was not disappointed. The singer’s songs continued for ten more minutes or so and we all gathered to eat and watch, some of us standing, some of us perched on random boulders. We were absolutely mesmerized and could ignore the persistent pressure of the cold on our toes.

After I finished eating I ducked into the laavu and joined a woman who was talking to a group of teenage girls about traditional Sami folklore. I let her know I was American, again imposing my language on others, but I was desperate to learn. They didn’t seem to mind. We listened and leaned closer to the fire in the stove between us. We breathed in the scent of the balsam fir and reindeer hide we sat on. Slowly our hands began to thaw, but others wanted to see what it was like inside, and there was only so much scooting closer to each other that we could do in the space. I left to give my patch of reindeer fur to a father and daughter.

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Before leaving the area of celebration, I thanked the singer. She smiled warmly and was glad to talk with me for a few minutes. I was disappointed to learn she didn’t yet have a CD, but hopefully one day she will make one.

I think I will come back to this post and add more later, because for some reason that afternoon seems to be escaping me now. Maybe it is because today was so blue and warm. It’s started to smell like spring through the February cold and I don’t know how to feel about that. There was so much more to that afternoon than I can seem to express. But hopefully the pictures will bring you a bit closer to what I saw.

I hope that you are warm and content inside and out wherever you all are.

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