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 The role of almonds in Swedish marital trends

  • December 30th, 2005
  • 9:35 pm

The role of almonds in Swedish marital trends

Mikael Johansson, Susanne Vejdemo

Abstract

In this paper, we investigate the Swedish folkloristic belief that almonds in the Christmas rice porridge will lead to marriage. We offer a falsification of this hypothesis.
Keywords: Christmas traditions, almonds, porridge, marriage

Introduction

One old folk tradition in Sweden is to eat rice porridge on Christmas Eve. Normally, the porridge is served with a single shelled almond stirred into the porridge. Whoever bites into the almond is supposed to make up a rhyme immediately, and also is believed to marry soon – sometimes said to be before the year ends, or during the coming year.
In [1], an information page from Skansen, a renowned open air museum focusing on Swedish culture and traditions, the following is said about this belief:
“Förr i tiden la man ofta en mandel i gröten och rörde om så att den blev gömd i den fina gröten. Den som fick mandeln sa man skulle bli gift under året.”
”In earlier times, an almond was often put in the porridge and stirred in so that it would be hidden in the nice porridge. Whoever got the almond was said to be married during the year” (translation by the authors)

Method

This paper is a quantitive explanative study in which no new data will be presented. We strive to falsify the hypothesis that almonds eaten in porridge at Christmas correlates to marriage in the following year. We judge the hypothesis to be falsified if fewer than 50% of the consumed almonds could have triggered a marriage.

Data

[3] gives the following population data for the number of families in Sweden:
Total number of households: between 3.8 and 4.8 million, ranging through the different methods used
Total number of marriages: between 31 598 and 56 559 during the period 1950-2003
The Swedish Church publishes some statistics for marriage frequencies as well. [4] gives the following data for church-officiated marriages in numbers and as a proportion of the total number of marriages. These tables cohere to the data given in [3] – with error margins well under 5‰ between the two sources. Furthermore, the maximum since 1970 lies in 1989 according to this data, with a grand total of 110 223 marriages, an outlier that does not occur in the data in [3].

Discussion

There are approximately 4 million families in Sweden (see [3]). Some of these might fall outside the cultural context, and some of these will celebrate Christmas together (grandparents celebrating with their grown children and their families would in the statistics be counted as several families et.c.), which leads us to reducing the almond estimate to 1 million. This is a very rough estimate, but we judge that we have erred on the side of caution, especially as some families use several almonds during Christmas Eve (personal experience).
If the were no other forces involved in causing marriages, this would lead to 500 000 marriages each year. Our data gives the actual number as less than 56 559, or less than approx. 10% of the expected density. Even the outlier in the church data [4] doesn’t grow higher than approx. 20% of our expected marital density.
We thus consider the hypothesis falsified.

Sources

Skansen is selfcharacterized by [2] “Skansen ska verka för att öka kunskapen om och stärka engagemanget för kultur- och naturarvet” – ”Skansen shall work to increase knowledge about and strengthen the interest in the cultural and natural heritage” (translated by the authors)
Over the years, Skansen has accumulated a wealth of Swedish cultural information and is judged to be a credible source for statements about widespread Swedish beliefs.
Statistiska Centralbyrån is the governmental agency responsible for collecting and analyzing statistical data. Their web page can be found at http://scb.se

Further research

One factor we have not looked into in this analysis is the influence of other folkloristic marital triggers. What happens if you get more than one almond during a christmas? What happens if you get the almond as well as eat a slice of cake that was served standing up? This kind of further analysis would require a deeper approach than this paper could accomodate.

Bibliography

[1] http://www.skansen.se/pages/?ID=439
[2] http://www.skansen.se/pages/?ID=381
[3] Statistiska Centralbyrån, Statistisk Årsbok 2005.
[4] http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/statistik/pdf/kyrklighandling.pdf

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