The sky outside was still dark as whispered voices and muffled footsteps echoed throughout the house. In the early hours of the morning, the kettle hummed and a little girl dressed herself all in white. A tray was loaded with tea and lussekatter, saffron buns sprinkled with pearl sugar and shaped into swirls. Three young heads bobbed up the stairs, glowing in the light of candles. As the door to the master bedroom was eased open, quivering voices began to sing. “Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.”
I was the girl clad in white with a red sash and a crown of candles, followed resolutely each year by my brothers into the room of my parents on that frigid morning in December. In that moment, my face sparkling in the glow of the plastic lights on my head, I was Saint Lucia, reenacting the rescue of the poor peasants in Sweden on a dark night long ago, saved by a glowing presence in white who offered them food and comfort. I grew up with the story of Saint Lucia, and each year on the thirteenth of December, I lived the life of a Swede.
I will always be proud to say that I am one sixteenth Swedish. My household growing up was not of one rich cultural background, I did not come home to a second language, and I do not have one direct country of origin. Instead, out of a melting pot of European countries, there arose a love of my Swedish heritage, and I grew up knowing of my ancestors from Sweden and holding in my heart a country other than the United States. Each year, I lovingly arranged our dala horses, brightly painted in blues and reds, and read the story of the mischievous Tompte, the little spirit man who visits farms at night to bless the inhabitants. I heard news of our distant cousins living in Sweden, and occasionally thumbed through photo albums of the trip to Sweden that was made when I was two years old. Although I do not remember Sweden, it has played a large role in my childhood years and as I begin to understand my heritage.
While it may seem easy for those who are directly descended from a particular ethnic background to celebrate their culture, it is equally important for those of us who are made up of many stories and many nations to learn and to live remembering who we are. Though I may not be able to trace every country my relatives have come from, I am able to rejoice in my Swedish traditions, to proudly show up each year for the annual tree trimming at my family’s Swedish Lodge and to dance around the Christmas tree, butchering the Swedish words to every song.