special exhibitoons

Skål: Scandinavian Spirits

On view January 28-September 17, 2017

We are excited to announce the opening of our next special exhibition Skål: Scandinavian Spirits, which explores the drinking culture and traditions of Scandinavia. Some claim that the word skål has a root in the skulls of the vanquished, from which Viking warriors would drink to celebrate their victory. But this is a grisly tale, and most likely just a story. Most agree that skål, which is the word for bowl in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, harkens back to a time when wooden bowls, sometimes elaborately decorated, would be filled with beer and passed from person to person at community gatherings like weddings or festival days. From that tradition of passing the bowl, the term Skål is now also a toast – “Cheers!”   

The history of imbibing on special (and not so special) occasions predates the proliferation of Christianity in Scandinavia. The Norse god Odin was credited with teaching humans how to brew beer, and drinking beer could take the form of worship and offering to the deities. The Norse sagas mention drinking beer, especially in celebration of battle victories, and sometimes in the form of drinking challenges. When harvests were small, however, beer brewing was restricted in order to reserve enough grain for food preparation. 

Around the 1500s, the strong stuff made its way into society when brännvin (brændevin in Danish / brennevin in Norwegian), a term for vodka or distilled liquor, became known through Scandinavia. It was primarily distributed as medicine, but we can see that a wider use had become common by 1551 when King Christian III of Denmark-Norway attempted to ban serving brännvin on holidays to prevent people from attending church while drunk. By the 1600s, brännvin was widely available through home-based distilling, though the results often tasted awful, which led to adding herbs and other plants to improve the flavor. These selective infusions became what we now know as aquavit, which is regularly served with herring at any decent smörgåsbord.

King Gustav I Vasa of Sweden was fond of a German drink called Glühwein, which was a sweet mixture of wine, sugar, honey, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves. It was later named glödgad vin in 1609, which meant “glowing-hot wine.” The word glögg is a shortened form that first appeared in print in 1870. Swedes consume glögg from the beginning of Advent through the New Year, as the beverage is almost exclusively reserved for the Christmas season. Swedish glögg is a souped-up version of the German drink consisting mainly of red wine, brandy, and port infused with spices, and then raisins and blanched almonds are added to the cup. Glögg is preferably served in a special little mug with a handle. While it’s not so typical to “Skål!” while holding an adorable cup of glögg, it can and does happen and everyone enjoys the ritual:
Raise your glass.
Say “Skål!” with gusto.
Look your companions in the eye.
Take a drink.
Look your companions in the eye again.
Set down your glass. 

Discover more about these and other fun, boozy histories when ASHM opens the exhibition Skål! Scandinavian Spirits. This exciting travelling exhibition focuses on the heritage of beer and aquavit through stories, traditions, and recipes. Over 50 historic and contemporary artifacts related to Scandinavian drinking traditions will be on display from the Museum of Danish America, American Swedish Institute, Swedish American Museum, the Nordic Heritage Museum, and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. It may be the first collaborative project to involve such a broad spectrum of Scandinavian-American museums; it is as if we all gathered around the table—Skål!

Skål! Scandinavian Spirits opens on Saturday, January 28, 2017 and will be on view through September 17, 2017.

Presented by Aalborg and Linie Aquavits, organized by Tova Brandt  of the Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, Iowa.

It is presented at ASHM through the generosity of the Swedish Council of America, SWEA New Jersey, SWEA Philadelphia, the ASHM Auxiliary, Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, George C. and Esther Ann McFarland Foundation, Midsommarklubben, and an anonymous foundation. Support provided in part by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Funding for the American Swedish Historical Museum is supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.













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Upcoming Exhibitions


Where the Children Sleep, Opens October 2017


Past Exhibitions

To view more information about past exhibitions at ASHM click here>>

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