Tag Archives: Sami culture

St. Lucia, Fermented Herring and the Sami in Sweden

Someday, I’d like to be in Scandinavia for St. Lucia Day. In Norway, Sweden and parts of Finland, Croatia and Italy, December 13 is the feast day of Lucia.

She was an early martyr executed in the reign of Diocletian. Her crime was to carry food to Christians hiding in the dark catacombs of Rome.

Legend has it that she wore a wreath of candles to light the way, all the better to free up her hands to carry as much food as she could.

I love the Nordiska Museum in Stockholm. I’ll spend hours there anytime.

It’s a grand palace built specifically to celebrate all things Swedish.

An enormous wood carving of King Gustaf Vasa, who liberated Sweden from Denmark in the early 1500s, occupies his own dome in the great hall. It’s by Carl Milles, 1925.

Each traditional holiday has its own set of displays.

St. Lucia Day and Christmas are well-known, but how about the uniquely Swedish holiday of the Fermented Herring Festival?

I’m sure my own Swedish ancestors ate plenty of fermented herring. In Minnesota, where many Swedes landed, it survives as “lutefisk,” still made for special occasions and much joked about. So far, I’ve avoided having to actually eat it. (In the fine film “The Emigrants,” a young man hoping to go to America excitedly tells his friend that it is absolutely forbidden to eat herring in the new land. Poor people had their fill of herring in the Old Country).

The Nordiska features the best collection of folk art and furniture that I’ve ever seen.

There’s a large section devoted to the indigenous Sami people, who have their own culture and traditions. In spite of a history of some persecution and exploitation, about 20,000 of them still live in their ancient homelands in northern Scandinavian.

They’ve added tourism and marketing their wonderful crafts to their traditional occupation of reindeer herding.

The last time I was at the Nordiska, I was lucky enough to have family along. My granddaughters had a great time in the interactive kids’ section detailing Swedish country life in earlier times.

Oh, to be in Sweden on St. Lucia Day! I’m adding it to my ever-expanding travel wish list. I’d like to head way north to visit the Sami, too. But I’ll probably skip the herring.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!