Bringing in the sheaves

Kristine Leander connects to her heritage with traditional julenek

julenek

Photo courtesy of Kristine Leander
Every holiday season, Kristine Leander celebrates her heritage with her hand-harvested Christmas sheaves.

LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American

Each summer, Kristine Leander, president of the Leif Erikson International Foundation and executive director of the Swedish Club in Seattle, goes back to your roots—literally—when she goes out into the fields of her family farm in Mount Vernon, Washington’s Skagit Valley to harvest 100 sheaves of wheat or other grains, such as barley.

Leander lovingly bundles the sheaves up and stores them in her barn until November, when she starts to bind them with red ribbons to be sold as traditional Christmas sheaves.

A julenek (Norwegian and Danish) or julkärve (Swedish) is a sheaf of grain hung on a tree or pole as a Christmas treat for the birds.  The tradition is actually from olden times, when people believed that taking care of the animals and spirits during the coldest, darkest days of winter would bring good luck and a bountiful harvest. Like other winter solstice traditions, it eventually became part of the Christmas celebration.

On Scandinavian farms, the peace of Christmas began before sundown on Dec. 24, when the sheaf was tied to a pole and erected in the yard. It was thought to be very lucky if the birds flocked to it as it was being hung.

Christmas sheaves are popular in Scandinavia today, and few homes are without a julenek. Leander thinks that Scandinavian homes everywhere should have one, so she started Stine’s Sheaves to sell her julenek locally.

If you live in the Puget Sound region, you can order one of these beautiful hand-harvested sheaves by emailing Stine’s Scandinavian Sheaves at leif@leiferikson.org or calling (206) 778-1081. The sheaves will be available for pick-up at the Swedish Club Holiday Bazaar between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Oct. 31 – Nov. 1, at 1920 Dexter Ave. N. in Seattle. With pre-payment, you can also arrange to pick them up in Ballard or at the Swedish Club until she runs out. The cost per sheaf is $20 by check as a prepayment or $25 at the time of pickup, But don’t wait too long—she cut half as many this year due to the pandemic—but also the julenek are very special and sell out fast!

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

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