When Dr. Thomas DuBois came to Seattle this fall to introduce his English translation of Johan Turi’s “An Account of the Sámi,” I was intrigued to find that my subdued childhood Christmases may have had something to do with Sámi tradition (as filtered through Laestadianism).
“It was a time to be very quiet,” Dr. DuBois said.
We certainly were that. In our Laestadian home, there were no “pagan” Christmas trees or lights, no Santas or carols, only a few fir boughs and candles, and a lot of cookies. We read from Scripture and sang hymns (softly). This was weak tea compared to story books and my classmates’ accounts of their holidays, and I was determined, when I had my own children, to make a big fuss of the holiday.
Recently I was asked to create a small exhibit at the Swedish Cultural Center to illustrate the ancient origins of Scandinavian Christmas traditions. Below are the tidbits I pulled together (only a few of which made it into the display). The objects in the display, owned by the Center, include beautiful weavings and Yule decorations such as a Julbok, a cheese press marked with an “x” to keep away evil, and a Christmas porridge bowl.
Update: There is a fascinating account of Christmas traditions in Sàpmi here, and an exploration along of pagan Yule traditions from a Norwegian perspective here.
Are any of these surprising to you? Do you have any corrections or additions? Please let me know in the comments.
Date of Christmas
For the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December—or on the calendar at all. December 25th already hosted two other festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the “Sun of Righteousness.” The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell within a few days. Roman church leaders decided to take advantage of the popularity of this season when they chose the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, an event that probably occurred in the month of September.