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Merry Christmas to All

 

 

As December 13th approaches, my thoughts turn to my grandparents - my motherís Swedish parents. First generation. From southern Sweden. Nearly a thousand years of my relatives were baptized in the same fonts at two ancient churchesÖ and are buried in the two small graveyards. The 13th, because that is Lucia Day - Swedenís 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 saintís 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 dayís food and share stories. We stole back and forth between them, soaking up the atmosphere and pestering selectively - always staying out of my grandmotherís reach.

 

We didnít celebrate Lucia Day at my grandparentsí 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 Ö 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 Ö 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 Ö 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)

 

 

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