If you’ve ever driven down Route 140 near the Ellington town green, chances are you’ve passed The Scandinavian Gift Shop. Marked by the traditional orange-red painted Swedish horse out front, this shop has served as a gateway to Scandinavia since February 1964 when Siv Harvey first opened it.
In the late 1950s, Siv moved from Sweden to Somersville where she worked as a nanny for seven children. She married and moved to Ellington a couple of years later. She and her husband used to do their grocery shopping at a market that was located in the Ellington Center Plaza. One day, the owner of the market told the Harveys that there was a retail opening at the other end of the plaza and suggested that Siv open a gift shop. She said, “Sure, why not?” and The Scandinavian Gift Shop was born.
Siv ran the shop at that spot for 31 years, adding on to the space twice before deciding to retire. This break from work lasted only a few months, as Siv says, “Once you have that retail blood in your veins, retirement just isn’t for you.” She applied to the town for permission to re-open the shop in her home on Route 140 and has been running it there, across the street from the original location, ever since. The shop specializes in Scandinavian imports, from various interesting foods one would find on a typical smorgasbord to figurines, linens, porcelain, crystal, jewelry, books, clothing and more. While The Scandinavian Gift Shop is open throughout the year, Siv says the holidays are her busiest time. Year after year, customers come from all over, she says, “traveling far to come get their foods, ornaments and gifts” for the holidays.
Here, the holiday season officially begins the Saturday after Thanksgiving, also known as Small Business Saturday, when Siv holds her annual holiday open house. For Siv, this includes borrowing a favorite tradition from her homeland in the form of a visit from Saint Lucia. In Sweden, the holiday season begins with a ceremony honoring Saint Lucia, a martyr whose goal was to spread light through the dark days of the Arctic winter. During the solstice celebration, the oldest daughter from each family dresses as the saint in a red-sashed white gown and wears a crown of evergreens with tall candles attached to it. She wakes her parents with a breakfast of hot coffee and Lucia buns, sweet buns made with saffron, then walks with other similarly-dressed girls through the neighborhood singing songs about dispelling the darkness.
During this time of year, the streets of Sweden are awash in decorations and lights, and families decorate their holiday trees with straw ornaments and small, Santa-like gnomes wearing tall, pointy red caps. Homes fill with the scent of pepparkakor baking in the oven; these are gingerbread biscuits that are often served with farmers cheese or dipped in glogg, or mulled spiced port wine. Coffee and cardamom breads are popular Swedish treats during this time, and LuAnn Hoffman of LuAnn’s Bakery, also in Ellington, makes her delicious versions of these breads for Siv to sell at the shop.
Christmas Eve is the culmination of the Scandinavian holiday season. On this night, families gather around a buffet table groaning with holiday foods. This is the holiday julbord, the Christmas version of a smorgasbord. At the center is a glazed ham and that is surrounded by seasonal side dishes like pickled herring, beets, baked beans, a variety of breads and a dish called Jansson’s Temptation which consists of scalloped potatoes studded with Swedish anchovies. Swedish meatballs are a must, and these are served with lingonberries, which Siv says are also good on Swedish pancakes and poultry dishes. She praises their health properties as well, and adds, “Once you get used to lingonberries, you don’t go back to cranberries.” Another customary dish is the infamous lutefisk, cod that is caught in the summertime, cleaned, deboned and dried, then treated and cured with lye and boiled. Siv carries a frozen version at the shop. She says she herself loves it but adds, “There are very few people that will eat it.”
After dinner, there are lots of sweets to be gobbled up, but a traditional favorite is rice porridge. A blanched almond is hidden inside one serving of this cinnamon-spiced dessert. Whoever finds the almond is blessed with the extra gift of a pig made of pink marzipan and good luck in the year to come. After dessert, Santa visits and it is time to open gifts such as Royal Copenhagen collectible Christmas plates, jewelry, and crystal ornaments. Another typical gift is the Dala horse, the painted wooden horse that has become a symbol of Sweden, which comes in varying sizes and colors and also brings good luck to the recipient.
Through all of these imported foods and goods she sells, Siv Harvey is able to maintain her Scandinavian roots and share them with others. Her gift shop is a special place where you can purchase unique gifts for loved ones or discover something new for yourself at any time of the year. However, a visit during the holidays would certainly help you carry on your own Scandinavian holiday traditions or perhaps inspire you to start some new ones. Either way, with Siv’s help, you’re sure to find something here to make it a “God Jul!” (which is Swedish for “Merry Christmas”).
The Scandinavian Gift Shop is located at 99 Maple Street, also known as Route 140, in Ellington. Holiday hours (November and December) are from Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sunday, in December only, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Cash or check only; no credit or debit cards are accepted. Call 860.872.0273 for more information and for regular, non-holiday hours.