December 13th is St. Lucia’s Day. Many Swedish-Americans celebrate this traditional Scandinavian holiday, remembering the legend…
There once was famine in Sweden and St. Lucia was said to have arrived in homes, her head aglow, bearing food for all. To commemorate this event girls don crowns lit with candles, boys wear pointy hats with stars, and they take breakfast to their parents. “…the eldest daughter—as St. Lucia—leads her brothers and sisters in a procession into their parents’ darkened bedroom to deliver a surprise breakfast of such Scandinavian specialties as saffranbrod (sweet saffron buns), pepparkakor (gingersnaps), and cups of hot, steaming coffee,” (Sarah Ban Breathnach, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions).
Writing The Strongman and The Mermaid has given me the opportunity to explore wonderful Polish and Slavic holiday traditions. Many are similar, rooted in common ground, with subtle tweaks and developments setting them apart. I’m sure there were Swedes in Donora in 1910, but the bulk of the people who flooded the valley to work the mills and mines were Eastern European and Italian. When the zinc mill was built, it lured the best zinc workers in the world to Donora—the Spanish. There was also a significant Jewish population in Donora, bringing with them the light and wonder of Hanukkah. The Scots and Irish filled management positions and though they carried traditions with them, much of what that generation experienced was the melding of old country with what was to become Americanized versions of old ways. The Scots and Irish had mastered the art of being American—they were literate in English, adopted American fashions, and family traditions were evolving—They’d already become what many were aiming to be. These traditions and celebrations gave me the chance to enrich the story and introduce drama and unique plot twists. It was one of the most fun parts of writing this book.
The magic of the holiday season was lived fully in Donora and in every town in our growing America… what traditions does your family continue from holidays past?