Los Angeles Swedish Festival
The following informant is a 21 year-old student from Sherman Oaks, California, currently studying at the University of Southern California. Their stepmother was from Sweden, and included the informant in traditional Swedish holiday festivities. Here, they are describing memories of attending the Shrine Auditorium, and a belief they recall. They will be identified as X.
X: My stepmom was from Sweden, and so, obviously her heritage was very important to her, because she was living in a different country, but she’s Swedish.
I guess Christmas time in Sweden is a big cultural thing, and they have all these different traditions than what we have over here. So, the Swedish community in Los Angeles puts together an annual Swedish Christmas fair at the Shrine — it’s basically like every Swedish person in LA is in the same room at the same time, and they have all the vendors selling things from Sweden, all the clocks and all the food, they’d have Swedish meatballs and spiced wine, which they make around Christmas time.
They’d also have the Santa Lucia celebration, I think. It’s like the blonde girl with candles on her head, like a candle crown. They’d sing a traditional folk song, which I still kind of know the melody — I never learned all the words.
It was beautiful, they’d turn the lights down, and all the girls would come in and, their white gowns with little red accents on it, because that’s the Christmas colors. Santa Lucia would have the crown of candles on her head, and everyone else would have a little wreath on their head — it was really pretty.
They have these little Christmas elf characters called tomte, and they’re little wooden creatures, with little beards and hair, and made of sheep’s wool, I think, but it’s really soft. They all have little red caps on, like Santa hats. But the story goes, the tomte are little older men type characters, like elves, and they’re the size of a small child, and they would either live in the barn or the pantry of the house, and their job was to take care of the animals.
You’d feed them porridge, leave it out for them and they’d eat it. And the way you know you have a tomte living with you is if you have a tidy house and tidy barn, that means there’s a tomte there. We still have our tomte decorations that we put out every year, now it’s become just a part of Christmas.
The informant is a friend of mine who studies in the same program. I asked them if they recall or would be willing to share any special holiday traditions or rituals that they or their family takes part in annually.
All of what the informant shared with me is factually accurate, as far as I can tell. It is interesting how there are small variations in holiday celebrations; instead of what I know of as elves in Western culture and Christmas celebrations, decorations, and stories, the Swedish Christmas holiday includes tomtes, which I have found stem from Nordic tales, and do in fact resemble gnomes.
It is nice how this almost foreign version of something has become a staple of Christmas for the informant; it is a means by which they might reconnect with their stepmother and show appreciation for their relationship, even without her being there.