Ancient Heritage and Modern Traditions
Leaning into Ancient Heritage and Modern Traditions
How one family with eclectic views comes together to celebrate their mutual ties
My mom really enjoys the holiday season. I should say seasons. She likes all the holidays. She loves to go all out in December, though. Which inspires my brother, his family, and myself to really enjoy it, too. We have a unique tradition we celebrate that has become a family favorite over time. It’s our way of honoring our own ancient heritage and modern traditions. It’s a nice mash up for a modern family seeking meaning inside the commercialized societal traditions we are ‘encouraged’ to celebrate. I’ll just leave that one there. You can fill in the blank as to your view on how we’re ‘encouraged.’
For us, it all goes off the rails pretty quickly in regard to fitting with popular culture’s expectations. My brother, his wife, and my niece are practicing Nichiren Buddhists. My niece is Japanese-American, and my sister-in-law is Japanese. My brother has been practicing buddhism for thirty-five years now. I tend to find my own spiritual solace and connection in nature; it’s a large part of my life and deeply important to me. It feeds my soul. My mom hasn’t set foot in a Christian Church service for likely 40 years, but she still reveres the traditions she grew up with. She’s not alone, we enjoy it, too.
Her parents, my grandparents, were of Nordic descent – Danish and Finnish. As a family, we’ve always felt very connected to our Viking and Scandinavian roots. I was lucky enough to know and remember my Finnish great-grandmother, whom we called Mumu. She came to America on her own when she was just 13 years old. She passed away when I was five, but I recall her ‘babushka-like’ presence, and visiting her house in Berkeley that had an ice box for the refrigerator and a stove that was wood burning in her kitchen.
I recall her ‘babushka-like’ presence, and visiting her house in Berkeley that had an ice box for the refrigerator and a stove that was wood burning in her kitchen.
My mom is an artist, and while I was growing up in the ‘70s, she would make our family’s group holiday gift each year with her own two hands. All who received her creations would oooh and ahhh over her creativity. One year she created this really unforgettable framed piece of art. She had to drive all the way to Vallejo to procure her main implement, a large fresh caught fish with its head intact. This fish also had to be of a “pleasing” shape and the right length. With her artist’s implement, the 12 or so inch fish, she applied ink all over one side of its body and then used it as a stamp onto a piece of rectangular tinfoil. What was produced was a really cool and detailed impression of the fish on the foil. You could see each scale, and most cool of all, it’s eye gazing out at you. She then matted and framed it, and that was the gift. She made all kinds of other interesting things over the years, stained glass windows, ceramics, and so on; but that fish sticks out in my mind.
Fast forward to more recent years and her artistic holiday creations have morphed to be quite culinary. These days we begin the holiday season by celebrating Santa Lucia Day, which for us, consists of drinking glögg in candlelight, feasting on my mom’s smorgasbord, and listening to Big Band music from the ‘30s and ‘40s while we trim her Christmas tree. This tradition is so layered for all of us, and I believe it’s the favorite party of the season for all.
These days we begin the holiday season by celebrating Santa Lucia Day, which for us, consists of drinking glögg in candlelight, feasting on my mom’s smorgasbord, and listening to Big Band music from the ‘30s and ‘40s.
My mom takes the opportunity to prepare this amazing smorgasbord spread. Center stage is the fish. She leans into old-world traditions as she’s able, while weaving in her own modern touches. She picks up salted herring from Nordic House (sadly closing its brick and mortar doors at the end of 2021) and spends the days leading up to the party making us three kinds of pickled herring. Also served is havarti and gjetost cheeses, pickled cucumbers, smoked salmon salad, rodkal (pickled red cabbage), along with a divine smattering of other bite sized delights. It’s festive and fun, and tasty, too.
It doesn’t stop with the food. She has also collected a wide assortment of Scandinavia themed plates and decor over her lifetime, so the whole candle-lit scene holds a lovely Nordic vibe.
Glögg is mulled wine; spiced, warmed, and delish. The best part is when we all toast our first sips of glögg, strongly pronouncing, “skøl!,” as we make eye-contact with each person. I feel in that moment our ancestors are conjured, as we drink to their memory and to our own health and connection.
I feel in that moment our ancestors are conjured, as we drink to their memory and to our own health and connection.
Santa Lucia Day, which falls on December 13, was the original solstice celebration date and is my chance to reflect on my own ancient heritage and modern traditions. One of the things I love is how this family feast gets me in the mindset of honoring the coming Winter Solstice, the longest night, in the week prior to its actual occurrence. I take the opportunity to go out in nature and reflect on the year prior and ponder what seeds I’d like to plant for the coming year. What ways do you allow yourself to stop and reflect on the previous year? Do you have any of your own rituals or practices? Are there ways in which you weave your own ancient heritage and modern traditions?
What ways do you allow yourself to stop and reflect on the previous year? Do you have any of your own rituals or practices? Are there ways in which you weave your own ancient heritage and modern traditions?
Below is a StoryCatcher® video I made a handful of years ago at our Santa Lucia Day party where you can see the smorgasbord and hear a little more about the tradition
What meaning or connection do traditions bring to your life?
video made using StoryCatcher® for iPhone
[original text below via Wikipedia]
Santa Lucia Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, is a Christian feast day observed on 13 December. The observance commemorates Lucia of Syracuse, an early-4th-century virgin martyr under the Diocletianic Persecution, who according to legend brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a candle lit wreath on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible. Her feast day, which coincided with the shortest day of the year prior to calendar reforms, is widely celebrated as a festival of light. Falling within the Advent season, Saint Lucy’s Day is viewed as a precursor of Christmastide, pointing to the arrival of the Light of Christ in the calendar on Christmas Day.
Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most widely in Scandinavia and in Italy, with each emphasizing a different aspect of her story. In Scandinavia, where Lucy is called Santa Lucia, she is represented as a lady in a white dress symbolizing a baptismal robe and a red sash symbolizing the blood of her martyrdom, with a crown or wreath of candles on her head.
Blog Post Author:
April Bell is a Professional Personal Historian and founder at Tree of Life Legacies. She has been operating her storytelling and wisdom keeping project in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States since 2008. April utilizes her innate skills as an active listener to connect with others and draw out their stories and authentic, heartfelt values to be preserved and shared for generations to come. Her clients include individuals, families and organizations who value the power of story. In an effort to provide the gift of video storytelling to the world at large via a simple, fun and easy to use tool, she and her business partner, iPhone app coder Urs Brauchli, released StoryCatcher® for iPhone in the Fall of 2013. Available on the Apple App Store.
Glögg; a warm, mulled wine.
Three kinds of pickled herring; curried, fried, and mustard-dill.
Smoked salmon rolls, and blood oranges marinated in a mixture of grapeseed oil with fresh minced garlic and rosemary.
Salmon salad, stuffed tomatoes, and pickled cucumbers.
A Santa Lucia celebration in Sweden; magical music, singing and traditions; fantastic production. Click on the image to view.
Similar to Mumu’s wood burning stove.
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