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Wagner: Family, Food and Fun for the Holidays
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In the latest of IG Online's holiday features, Swedish Olympian Veronica Wagner describes her family's yuletide customs and festivities.
Veronica Wagner

Wagner, the sole Swedish qualifier to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, said her family rotates its Christmas gathering among three locations every three years: the first with her mother's relatives at her aunt's house; the second with her father's relatives; and the third at her parents' house, with relatives from both sides of the family. This year, Wagner and family members gathered at her aunt's house.

Christmas Day brings the family and friends together for games and food.

"We meet some different people that day, friends and others," Wagner told IG. "We play games like Monopoly, and none of us will be the loser without a big fight. We have lot of fun, because all of us like to win. Or, should I say, we can be silly in my family, because no one can take a loss very well. If I get the time, I will also make gingerbread. I love to make my own."

Wagner said ice-skating is another wintertime activity she and other Swedes enjoy.

"We try to go and skate on a lake a few minutes from our home," she said. "In Sweden almost every kid and parent can skate. Maybe that's why we are Olympic and world champions in that sport right now. But right now the weather is too hot to go and skate on real lakes, so we are still waiting for the snow and the cold to come."

Above all, Wagner said she is looking forward to quality time with loved ones.

"The thing I enjoy most is being with my family and friends, because I love them all, and Christmas is the time to take care of those you love!" she said.

Coached by Staffan Soederberg, the 19-year-old Wagner placed 55th all-around in preliminaries at the 2004 Olympics, and 30th all-around in preliminaries at the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne.

In 2006, Wagner was 13th all-around at the European Championships in Volos, Greece; and 62nd all-around at the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. She was also a finalist in three World Cup competitions: the Cottbus Cup in Germany (vault, balance beam), the French International in Lyon (balance beam, floor exercise) and the Ghent World Cup (vault).

Wagner had a training break from Dec. 22-27, and returned to full training Dec. 28-30. Wagner and her teammates will not train on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but they have a national training camp beginning Jan. 2.

"We have one more day (off) than normal, and I'm excited," Wagner said. "But I know myself. After a few days I will do a lot of stuff to keep me busy - not too much though, because I need the rest, too! But I have the time to hang out with my friends, and that will be fun. I hope we will have a big, great party on New Year's Eve. If we have a dance floor, I'll be there!"

Wagner, who aspires to become a chiropractor, said her goals for 2007 include winning a World Cup medal and qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The social Wagner said World Cup competitions will also give her the opportunity to mingle with her competitors.

"I will also enjoy meeting all the girls at all the World Cups this year – and some of the boys, too!" she said. "I miss many of them, and we do have such a great time. I really hope to meet Alicia Sacramone because we always have so much fun! I will take this chance to wish her a late happy birthday (Dec. 3). I wish everyone a happy, fun, and great Christmas. Take care, and enjoy the new year. I know I will! Let us hope 2007 will be the best year ever!"

A Wagner Family Christmas

The family has lunch at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, leaving time to prepare for another Swedish tradition that begins at 3 p.m., Wagner said. "In Sweden, at 3 o'clock, everyone young and old will watch Donald Duck, and many short (cartoons) like Santa and Mickey Mouse, and so on," she said. "That is tradition for everyone."

Wagner said the typical Swedish Christmas menu includes ham, smoked salmon, boiled egg halves with caviar, meatballs, small sausage, chipolata, herring and potatoes. "We have many different kinds of herring, such as pickled in mustard," she said.

Wagner noted several menu items that are unique to Sweden, including:

Porridge mixed with a single almond: "The one who gets that in their bowl will make a wish and will have some good luck," she said.

Glögg (mulled wine with sugar and herbs): "We drink it with almonds and raisins in it, which we add for the taste," she said.

Julmust: a cola-type soda unique to Sweden, which kids drink while their parents enjoy glögg.

"The recipe is so secret that only one person knows the exact things to put in it," Wagner said. "Many years ago people made their julmust the Christmas before they were going to drink it, and they opened the bottle one year later," Wagner said. "Now you can buy it in any store in Sweden. If you want to try it you can certainly buy it in Ikea, too!"

Pepparkaka: hard gingerbread biscuits. "If you have tried them you will for sure eat a lot of them during this time of yea," Wagner said.

Is chocolate: a sweet, softer kind of chocolate that is popular on Christmas.

Knäck: a taffy/toffee-like sweet. "The taste is wonderful!" Wagner said.

Lussebulle: roughly translated as "Lucia bread," this is a saffron bun resembling a figure eight. Served with coffee, it is usually eaten from December 13-24, but sometimes throughout the winter.

Jansson's frestelse: roughly translated as "Jansson's temptation," this is a gratin type dish of herring, onion and sliced potatoes.

Veronica Wagner is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

February 2005: "Veronica's Date – 2008" (profile)
November 2004: "Just Getting Started" (short Olympic profile)

To subscribe to IG magazine or order back issues, click here.

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