Merry Christmas to All
As December 13th approaches, my thoughts turn to my grandparents - my mother’s Swedish parents. First generation. From southern Sweden. Nearly a thousand years of my relatives were baptized in the same fonts at two ancient churches… and are buried in the two small graveyards. The 13th, because that is Lucia Day - Sweden’s special reminder that Christmas is at hand, and the months following will bring back the long days of spring.
Dawn on the 13th, Swedish families are awakened by a daughter, Lucia - Queen of Light, dressed in a long white robe with red sash, a hair circlet of green lingonberries, and tinsel woven in her hair - shimmering the reflected light of her crown of candles. She serves Lusse Kattor (saffron buns) and coffee to her family in bed. She and any sisters, each carrying a candle, are followed by the small elf-like Tomte (the Swedish Santa Claus), and sing Santa Lucia.
In one medieval legend, Lucia was a young girl who brought food and candlelight to the homes of the starving poor. Many Swedes believe that Christianized Vikings brought the Italian Lucia. As her saint’s day happened to fall on December 13th, close to winter solstice, she became the symbol of the return of the light - as well as Christmas.
When Nellie Larson was 17, she left her home in Skone, Sweden, where she had saved her wages as an apprentice tailor and hair-stylist, and booked passage on a trans-Atlantic ship. She knew that Dage Nilsson was smitten with her, but the draw of America was stronger.
In Sweden, you may request a boon on your eighteenth birthday, which - if reasonable - your family can not deny. Dage Nilsson asked his parents to find out where, in America, Nellie Larson had settled. An adventurous metal-smith that had briefly run away to Russia and traveled with the Gypsies, Philadelphia held no fear for young Dage. Docking after days at sea, he quickly found his love, where Nellie was engaged to soon be married to another man. Dage wooed, and won her heart.
My grandparents settled in a small rural town outside Philadelphia, Skippack - not unlike their homes in Sweden. Post-Mistress and Plant Manager for Allied Chemical, they raised their family. Many warm childhood memories are of huge Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts at their home - where the men gathered to play pinochle and smoke cigars after dinner, and the women settled into the kitchen to prepare the next day’s food and share stories. We stole back and forth between them, soaking up the atmosphere and pestering selectively - always staying out of my grandmother’s reach.
We didn’t celebrate Lucia Day at my grandparents’ house. And no one spoke Swedish. Like many immigrants at the end of World War I, they wanted to fully assimilate into American culture. I discovered the Lucia festival as an adult. At a family reunion several years ago, I found many cousins rediscovering the lost fragments of our history.
We now have an annual Larson-family Christmas magazine, with dozens of stories from the first and second generation of our family … the great-uncle who mistakenly learned German in rural Pennsylvania (thinking he was learning English), the sister who cooked the greatest squash she had ever seen - spoiling the Thanksgiving table when she cut the baked watermelon … the joys and struggles of a group of young brothers and sisters who braved meager resources, a strange language, and everything they knew - for a chance in America. And they gathered every Thanksgiving and Christmas to share their love and memories.
We are seeing many new cultures springing up in neighborhoods around Atlanta. I smile. A generation from now, brave parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will gather at the holidays - whether Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or Christmas - Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist - sharing war stories of coming from their homelands, learning our language, our customs, our holidays … With our grandparents, all our grandparents, they share courage, determination, love, and faith. And they all understand - in their own ways - the very special meanings of Christmas.
~ Scott Nilsson / 2nilssons.com
Atlanta, Georgia - USA
Copyright © 2002 by Scott Barricks Nilsson - All Rights Reserved
My Swedish Grandparents:
Morfar ("Mother's Father") and Mormor ("mother's Mother)
Please take me to:Scott's Articles & Writing
Scott's Path Writing Home
All photographs, graphic images, artwork and written material on this site are copyrighted by either Scott Nilsson, Kristy Nilsson or Scott & Kristy Nilsson, or by others - whether or not they are attributed to other authorship and may not be copied, reproduced or otherwise distributed without the written permission of the authors. Any work by others appearing on this site is for reference purposes only: ALL WORKS ARE COPYRIGHT PROTECTED BY AND FOR THEIR RESPECTIVE AUTHORS. Some of the trademarks appearing or mentioned on this site appear for identification purposes only. Copyright © 1994 - 2006-10-09 by Scott & Kristy Nilsson - 2nilssons.com. All rights reserved. Revised: 10/09/06 16:07:44 -0400.