2000. The year I spent Christmas with Geekman's other relatives. (The long lost relatives in Real! Live! Sweden.) Since we were living not all that far away from them (in Germany) at the time, it seemed like The Thing to Do.
Geekman's family makes up most of a small, seriously inbred village in the middle of nowhere in Southern Sweden. They have a few old red wooden houses with gingerbread eaves scattered around a lake, which itself lies in a pine forest full of moose (and the occasional wolf).
Once a year they dress up in their ceremonial hunting jeans and ceremoniously shoot a moose (and 'accidentally' shoot a wolf or two that has been hassling their sheep*), then pass severed limbs around the extended family to keep in the deep freeze until Christmas.
Here endeth the backstory.
The elderly relatives we stayed with in the main house are the only Scandinavians left in the entire world who do not speak a word of English. At that stage, I didn't speak a word of Swedish, either. And Geekman, as you may or may not know, is a fake Swede who defies the rule that people don't ever completely forget a language if they are totally immersed in it as their native language for the first six or seven years of life. His uncle remembered a little high school German. His aunt's strategy was to speak extra loud.
By the second day they were completely frustrated with our inability to understand loud pseudo-German-Swedish pidgin, so there was an expedition to a nearby library, which resulted in a stack of Pippi Långstrump videos and the Swedish equivalent of "My first picture dictionary". With these they sent us to our room until we were fluent.
Since Geekman had been gone from his "homeland" a long time, and in the meanwhile all his miscellaneous cousins had gone and sprogged (and some of their sprogs had sprogged), upon our release from language-learning prison we were paraded around to an endless series of homes where people would hug us and yodel at us in Foreign, and exclaim about how much Geekman had grown since he was six years old and how much stupider he had become, as he had after all been fluent in Swedish back then and now he could barely speak a word! Then they would act very impressed with our ability to realise that they were talking about us and the Aunt would whisper, "Ja, ja. De är duktiga! De ser på Pippi Långstrump!" ("Oh yes, they are smart! They watch Pippi Longstocking!")
And then we had to eat.
That was the real problem. The aunt and uncle we were staying with began the day with a large breakfast. Pickled herrings and bread, sausages and cheese, a bowl of yoghurt and some cereal were the least you could get away with under the watchful eye of the Aunt. At ten o'clock it was time for coffee and cake. And biscuits. And chocolate. Then lunch at midday was a full hot meal. Generally something involving sausages and potatoes and lots of cream. At 2:30 or so it was time for more coffee and cake. Then a brisk walk in the forest or ice-skating on the lake. And after all that exercise, you must be starving! Poor children! But never fear, there are doughnuts and more cake, and hot mulled wine and fruit. And as you are still wiping up the crumbs from that, dinner is served. And in the evening a special cupboard opened up and emitted Belgian chocolates and imported shortbread.
And you remember all those other relatives we were delivered to on a daily basis?
Well, it might not be quite Christmas yet, but since it isn't every day we get visitors from New Zealand (what? Germany? But New Zealand really) and in honour of finally meeting Geekman again, we decided to have an early Christmas dinner, just for you! Well, it is 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and I guess you've had lunch, but really, this is a special meal. I'm sure you can fit it in.
In total, I think we probably had close to ten Christmas dinners. And every single one of them featured stewed moose.
(Which is quite tasty, in case you're wondering.)
* Oh, whoops. There goes another endangered animal. I thought it was a moose when I shot it. Really. Don't tell the wildlife rangers, okay?