The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
By Karen E. Livsey
The ljuskrona tree is featured in the Fenton History Center Swedish Heritage Room during the “Dear Santa ...” exhibit through Jan. 19.
In the days before Christianity spread, worship of many gods and goddesses included the Nordic goddess Freja. Freja used to appear as an apparition in white during the longest night of the year and serve mead out of a large horn, as a symbol of the good year to come.
Lucia, the Italian girl who gave her wedding dowry to the poor starving Christians of her town after her mother had been miraculously cured, was condemned and put to death. She was declared a saint, and her story became associated with light and helping the starving. So goes the story in Sweden in Varmland, where Lucia was credited with bringing food during a wintertime famine. Dec. 13 in the old calendar was the longest night of the year. The old traditions of Freja, the story of Lucia, the light of Lucia after the darkness all come together to celebrate Lucia on Dec. 13 in Sweden and in Swedish-America. Lucia Day signals the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden.
Light in the darkness is celebrated as candles are lit and the longer days are noted. One item in the collection of the Fenton History Center is a "ljuskrona" or light crown. When we first received this item, ljuskrona were not well known in this area. Research by the Folklife Center of Central Kansas provided some information. They had been researching the ljuskronor found in the area of Lindsborg, Kan. Many of theirs had been made in America by Swedish immigrant families. The photograph on their website includes what we would maybe call "candelabras" with four to six arms that held candles at the ends of the arms.
The ljuskrona at the Fenton History Center has many more branches or arms and resembles a small Christmas-tree shape. The Fenton ljuskrona was made for the Eskil and Ida (Peterson) Anderson family in about 1914 to replace a wooden one that the family had used for more than a decade. The ljuskronor made by the Swedish immigrants were made from whatever materials were at hand. It did not matter what they looked like since the structure would be covered by fringed paper wrapped around the arms and the rest of the structure. This paper could be any color, although white became the popular color over time. Strips of paper are cut and fringed using different methods of cutting. These long strips are then carefully wrapped around the ljuskrona 'branches" and "trunk," transforming it from a jumble of odd material into a uniform thing of beauty. Candles were added to the ends of the branches, and at the appropriate time they were lit for a short time. Just like Christmas trees, the paper-covered ljuskrona could catch on fire.
Sometimes the ljuskrona was decorated with fringed, paper-wrapped pieces of candy. Most likely if any candy was left on the ljuskrona on Jan. 13, Knut's Day, it was eaten by the children as was the custom to "plunder" the Christmas tree before it was "danced out of the house," and the Christmas season was over. The ljuskrona is again part of the holiday exhibit in the Swedish Room at the Fenton History Center.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.