I’m Swedish. In most of the Minnesota corners where I’ve lived, that’s a statement met with “Oh Yah”s and “Uff Dah”s rolled from Scandinavian tongues; here I am clearly outnumbered.
It’s really interesting to have learned so much about German and Polish ancestry since I hit the streets in River City, and I realize too that I have a few things to share. I’m no expert, but my Swedish heritage compelled me as a child to celebrate a little-known holiday long ago. To be honest, I was young enough that I didn’t have an alarm clock (Mom’s singing was what roused us each morning); I did not have permission to use the stove; I probably should not have been playing with matches. I do not remember all of the details, but what I do remember is fun and worth a few ‘graphs.
It all started with the most traditional of school assignments: write a paper about another country. I’d imagine that, with the internet takeover, this sort of school work will never quite be the same, so listen up kids. We used to have to go to the school library and look this stuff up — in books! I can’t stress how different this is than the lazy Googling we all do today, although I’m sure youngsters are rolling their eyes at the page right now. There was something so tangible in flipping through the card catalogue, in using the tiny no-eraser pencils to scribble the card info down (the Dewey Decimal system gave us a number to find the books with) and shuffling through quiet aisles to find our book treasures. Sometimes, if you only wanted one fact about something, you had to skim through an entire huge book to find it. You were bound to linger on another page and learn something while you were at it; hopefully your Googlings will bring you extra information this way sometimes.
I chose Sweden because my father and family on that side are all, 100 percent, full-blooded Swedes. It seemed natural. I’m not certain whether the assignment asked for the exploration of holidays and traditions, but somewhere in my library search, I found out about Saint Lucia.
Saint Lucia is a traditional celebration in Sweden, Norway, parts of Finland and a few other locales. There are several different versions of the Saint Lucia story; the most popular has the young Lucy persecuted and killed by the Romans for her Christian beliefs. If you want to know more, “look it up,” as my dad would say. (Do parents say “Google it” now? I hope not.)
Anyway, I learned about the December 13 holiday while writing the paper, and that date was just a week or so away. I decided I was going to surprise the ‘rents with the traditional festival I had discovered.
During Saint Lucia, young girls will wear wreaths on their heads decorated with candles or lights and serve sweets to their masters and mistresses (or parents). That, I thought, I can do.
Somehow I was smart enough not to light my hair on fire trying to balance candles on my head. Instead, I cut a fake wreath out of green construction paper and decorated it with little drawn-on red berries. I got candles together and made sure there were some breakfast things in the fridge that I could handle — I believe the cuisine was scrambled eggs and toast, and something sweet I can’t remember.
Then came the problem. I’m not sure if I read this in a book or if it was the only way to pull off the surprise, but I was set on making this celebration happen at about 4 a.m. The trouble was, as I’ve mentioned, I did not have my own alarm clock. Mom would sing a crazy song to get us out of bed. As far as I can remember, I found no way to solve this one, and simply laid in my bed, reading Nancy Drew to stay awake, till just before the 4 a.m. event.
I quietly snuck down the stairs — which was impossible with the creaky wooden farmhouse stairs in my childhood home — ever fearful I’d wake them up and spoil the surprise. Fortunately, even my mom the light sleeper did not hear my sneaky creaking, and breakfast was successfully thrown together.
My parents remember giving one another “the look” when I tip- toed into their room with a tray of eggs and sweets wearing construction paper on my head at 4 a.m. that day. I was a good kid; it was probably the most well deserved “look” I’d generated thus far. With a few giggles, and after a needed explanation about the Saint Lucia tradition, they gobbled the eggs and promptly fell back to sleep.
The memory is admittedly hazy for me, probably due to the fact it was a school night and I didn’t get any sleep. It wasn’t the first night I’d traded sleep for hours of Nancy Drew, but it was definitely the one that was worth it.