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Keeping Swedish culture alive with St. Lucia Day, Tomte
Traditionally St. Lucia brings a tray of saffron buns, mulled wine, and coffee to caregivers. Here, two girls continue the legendary tradition by adorning themselves in St. Lucias garb, complete with lighted candle wreaths, white gowns, and red ribbons. - photo by Photo courtesy of Roger Soderstrom

“God Jul Och Ett Gott Nytt Ar!” or in other words, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas in Sweden has changed vastly over time, but still remains a hallmark holiday that acknowledges rituals, plentiful food, and ethnic commemorations for those who celebrate this holiday season as Swedish Americans.

Former Jenny Lind Lodge Chairman Paul Jevert said that Turlock has always held a large population of Swedish immigrants, and hopes that the rich history of his ancestors continues to thrive as time goes on.

“We are trying to keep our traditions alive. We enjoy celebrating the holiday, and enjoy the memories these traditions bring up. We like to maintain the Swedish culture, old and new, and keep it alive,” he said.

Traditional Swedish Christmasses begin in early December due to a lack of daylight in Sweden. The Advent celebrates the awaiting of Christmas Day by lighting one candle each Sunday four weeks before Christmas begins. Nowadays, children commonly use Advent calendars, which hold small sweets hidden behind Christmas symbols, to count down to Dec. 25.

In Sweden, Dec. 13  is also celebrated by honoring Saint Lucia, a symbol of life and a bearer of light during darkness.

“St. Lucia is a martyr,” Jevert said. “She wears a white robe and has a wreath of candles in her hair. She serves saffron buns, coffee, and wine on a tray and carries them into the family living area.”

Lucia was traditionally played by the eldest daughter in a family; but recent changes have allowed any girl in the family to perform the role of Lucia.  Girls who are not playing St. Lucia wear white and carry a single candle. There are also roles for boys in pageants to play. They are called Star Boys, and wear white robes, and white paper cones on their head with stars attached. The children then sing St. Lucia carols based on an old Italian lullaby.

The holiday tree doesn’t enter the house until one or two days before Christmas. The trees are decorated with an assortment of sweets, lights, and ornaments.  Christmas Eve, known as Julafton in Swedish, has a dinner that is usually comprised of smorgasbord, fish, and sweets.

Christmas Day is also a time of feasting.

“I love the Swedish potato sausage, but we also have lutefisk, cheeses, breads and coffee cakes. We are not as big on eating meat as on eating fish. We have salmon and eel, and glogg, which is a red wine that is heated in a saucepan with almonds and orange peels and raisins. It also has ginger, vodka, cinnamon sticks and cloves,” Jevert explained.

One aspect of the Swedish tradition that is almost lost entirely since the popularity of Santa Claus is the Tomte (a Christmas gnome). According to Swedish myth, the Tomte lives under the floorboards of houses and stables but comes out on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts to children.

Though traditions continue to evolve over time, Jevert say that maintaining connections with his roots and organizations like the Sons of Norway and Vasa has increased his participation in customary events.

“It’s important to maintain our culture. We try to keep people interested in their culture and their background. It doesn’t have to be lost,” Jevert said.

209 reporter