Julglädje from Minneapolis!

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From Saint Lucia’s crown of candles to ginger cookies on the Swedish Christmas tree and Norwegian gnomes and julebukk, the Swedish Institute in Minneapolis staging a Nordic “Christmas of light” through January 13.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Turnblad mansion exists today as a museum and the residence of the American Swedish Institute. The gates at 2600 Park Avenue in Minneapolis are open for all to indulge in Nordic holiday traditions.

Visitors enter through large, wooden doors, to be welcomed by lush red carpeting and a elaborately carved fireplace. The home is filled with intricately carved walnut, oak and mahogany woodwork. Eighteen woodcarvers were employed for two years to execute the woodwork.The annual holiday exhibit, which contains traditional Christmas dinner settings from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, allows guests to get a realistic glimpse into the countries customs.

Lucia Day in Minneapolis
(from American Swedish Institute website)
There are many legends associated with Lucia starting in fourth century Sicily. A young woman gave her dowry away to the poor and confessed herself a Christian. For this she was accused of witchcraft and put to death. Another legend tells of a famine in medieval days. A glowing figure dressed in white, Saint Lucia came across a great lake in the province of Värmland, Sweden. She brought gifts of food to the starving people. These legends vary, but Lucia shines as a symbol of light and hope in them all.

Lucia Day is December 13th and is joyously celebrated in Sweden, usually early in the morning. Lucia dresses in a white gown with a red sash and wears a crown of candles on her head. Lucia serves coffee, saffron buns and ginger cookies. Many offices, schools and community groups in Sweden select a Lucia. She is accompanied by female attendants dressed in white with tinsel sashes and a procession of “star boys.” The boys wear cone-shaped paper hats and carry star-tipped wands. All join in singing Lucia songs.

Saturday, December 15, 2007 at 2:30 p.m
Augustana Lutheran Church at 11th Ave. S. and 7th St. in Minneapolis (near the Metrodome).

Before or after the performance, audience members are invited to the American Swedish Institute that day. Ticket-holders may show their tickets for free museum entrance on Dec. 15. Tickets for Lucia Celebration on Dec. 15 are available to members and the public. Ticket sales begin Nov. 1. Call (612) 871-4907.

“It is exactly how it looked at home, everything in the room,” Evy Essenwein, a Swedish volunteer said.

Each dinning room has its own personality. For example, the Norwegian room contains the gorgeously decorated table, a festive tree, and the traditional holiday goat called julebukk.

On a common Swedish tree, every ornament is edible or has edible components like gingerbread cookies and candies. The edibles are saved for a special celebration called Julgransplundring—the plundering of the tree. The children of the family grab the goodies from the limbs and chomp away as their parents take the tree and toss it out the window or out of the front door. This marks the end of the holiday season. The celebration takes place at the Swedish Institute this season on January 12

Along with the Christmas rooms, there are other fascinating exhibits. They include glass and silver artworks, wood carvings and a room with Scandinavian Christmas plates dating back to 1895, as well as a brilliant Danish paper cutting exhibit prepared by St. Paul artist Cynthia McKeen.

Jenn Stromberg, publicist for the Swedish Institute, said that December gets very busy around the museum. One of the more popular events is Lucia Day, the beginning of the Swedish Christmas season. Wearing a crown of candles, Saint Lucia is a symbol of light and hope. [See sidebar for description of the December 15 event.]

The 33-room mansion was once a family residence. The Swedish Institute website calls it is the only castle in the Twin Cities.

“The family didn’t use it much,” said Stromberg. “It stood empty for several years.” To preserve the Nordic culture, owner Swan J. Turnblad, donated his mansion to the community in 1929,.

Mr. Turnblad lived a true rags-to-riches story. Immigrating to Minnesota in 1868 as an eight-year-old boy from Sweden, he came to the state with nothing. Beginning his journey toward the American dream, he worked as a type-setter.

In time, Turnblad earned his riches in the newspaper business and bought the Svenska Amerkanska Posten, a popular Swedish paper of the early 1900s, then built the mansion for his family.

For more information on the Turnblad mansion and events, visit the American Swedish Institute’s Web site. http://www.americanswedishinst.org.

Ryan Zickermann is a student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.

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