"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A St. Lucia's Day feast in Morris

You don't have to wait until Christmas to have a true celebration of the season. The Sons of Norway lodge in Morris celebrated "St. Lucia's" on December 14.
It's not really an outgrowth of Christmas. It has more to do with recognizing the minimal sunlight we get this time of year.
St. Lucia's Day is one of the few saint days observed in Scandinavia.
St. Lucia is one of the few saints celebrated by the overwhelmingly Lutheran Nordic people - those Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Finns. (Let's not forget the Finns.)
Yours truly is half Norwegian and half Swedish.
St. Lucia was a Christian martyr. She was killed in A.D. 304 by the Romans because of her religious beliefs.
Our Morris area Sons of Norway gathered at a private home for the observance: the home of Gary Eidsvold on East 3rd Street. The Eidsvold name is prominent in Morris history. The family ran a distributing company which is now in Alexandria, now known as Henry's Foods. It was Henry's Candy Company here. We once saw those little orange trucks out and about with "Henry's Candy Co." on the side.
Katie Ohren played the role of Lucia in the evening's festivities. Claire Reed was the maiden and Ellen Reed the junior Lucia. Everyone joined in the singing of seasonal music. Deb Mahoney played the piano and Corrine Knochenmus sang a solo.
The Lucia Song was performed for the processional and repeated for the recessional. Marilyn Syverson, Norskfodt Lodge president, presided for the closing and table grace. Marilyn's name is synonymous with Norwegian pride in Morris.
Finally everyone joined in socializing and feasting. Gary put together quite a spread.
Let's explore this Nordic tradition: "St. Lucy" enters as a young woman with lights and sweets. She wears a crown of candles or lights and is followed by a procession of girls each holding a single candle. They are adorned in white robes and red sashes. It's a striking scene.
Some elements of St. Lucia's predate the adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia.
Science didn't have an answer for lots of things in ancient times. Imagine you're noticing the daylight steadily diminishing until this reaches its peak in mid-December. It might be frightful. Superstition and ritual took hold.
The pre-Christian holiday of Yule was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Originally the idea was to mark the Winter Solstice and "re-birth of the sun."
I have often heard atheists connected to the Winter Solstice, I suppose as an alternative to Christmas.
I remember listening to a Christian radio voice once who said Christmas started as a pagan holiday anyway. This was in the 1970s when I was in a band that took long car trips. This radio voice was Garner Ted Armstrong. We learned that Mr. Armstrong and his father Herbert W. had built one of those powerful religious organizations that had its own magazine.
The old "holiday of Yule" saw various practices developed that remain in the Advent and in Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time of feasting, drinking and gift-giving. But there was a troublesome sign: awareness and fear of the forces of the dark.
Darkness certainly presided as the Norskfodt members arrived at the Eidsvold residence. Some might say "you can cut the darkness with a knife." Darkness prevails as I write this post at around 5 a.m. We have a nice blanket of snow for the holiday season.
I'm intrigued at how the Norwegians developed the tradition. I'm half Norwegian so I should be aware of "Lussinatten," the longest night of the year. From then until Christmas, spirits, gnomes and trolls roamed (roam?) the earth. Far out! Oh, the "Lussi," a feared enchantress, punished anyone who dared work! Kind of a reflection of the Grimm Fairy Tales. The Norse people built bonfires to try to scare off evil spirits.
Let's go on: Legend has it that farm animals talked to each other on Lussinatten. Animals were given additional feed on this longest night. Such folklore grew in the Nordic countries due to the extreme change in daylight hours between seasons in this region.
We can thank a newspaper (my old profession, considered in decline now) for establishing a modern tradition of St. Lucia processions. A newspaper in Stockholm, Sweden, elected an official Lucia for Stockholm in 1927.
Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids, and a national Lucia is elected on TV from regional winners. The regional winners visit shopping malls, nursing homes and churches, singing and handing out gingernut cookies. The Lucia procession in Stockholm is the biggest in the world.
Some roles have been found for boys, like dressing up as gingerbread men. (Oh, come on.)
Popular as St. Lucia's Day is in Sweden, it's not an official holiday. College students hold big formal dinner parties.
The story of St. Lucia was recited at the Norskfodt gathering here in Morris. (The turnout was good so the atmosphere was a little crowded, but that's fine.) The celebrants sang carols of the season, making clear that St. Lucia's is more than a Solstice-related ritual, it's woven in with Christmas.
The printed program for the event used the alternative spelling "Sankta Lucia."
The tradition is part of the Nordic folklore (and even religiosity) centered on the annual struggle between light and darkness. Nordic countries notice the extreme change in daylight hours between seasons. Beware those "forces of the dark." You've heard of "seasonal affective disorder?"
Remembering Lyman and Joe
The previous time I had visited the Eidsvold house, it was to interview Joe Robbie who was a close friend and associate of the elder Eidsvolds. Robbie was owner of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, and built a stadium in Miami with his own money! We should be so fortunate here in Minnesota. The stadium bore Robbie's name but has since been re-named Sun Life Stadium.
Lyman Eidsvold's wife was excited to tell Mr. Robbie that my father Ralph once directed the Apollo Club male chorus in Minneapolis. Dad once told me he worked with Tony Bennett in putting on some big type of show at Metropolitan Stadium in the pre-Twins days.
It was from Mr. Robbie that I learned the term "loss leader" (from the business world). He and Lyman had once been active in lobbying (as I remember) on the matter.
"Cigarettes were being sold as a loss leader," he told me.
"Loss leader" is a pricing strategy where a product is sold at a price below market cost to stimulate sales of more profitable goods or services. A loss leader might be placed in an inconvenient part of the store, so customers walk past. Often it's an item that people buy often, thus they know it's a bargain.
A retailer might limit how much of this you can buy. Loss leader examples might be milk, eggs or rice, or as Eidsvold and Robbie surveyed the situation: cigarettes.
High-end products might even be loss leaders. These are offered below profit margin to enhance the business' prestige to attract "lookers," who then may buy less expensive but more profitable stuff. (Clever people, those businessmen.)
Would you believe the Corvette car in the 1950s was a loss leader for General Motors? It was an image-builder. Men (especially) would go to the showrooms and end up buying a lower-cost model.
Joe Robbie died in 1990 and his wife Elizabeth not long after. Sadly, the aftermath saw the mother of all estate battles involving the couple's nine children. Estate battles are incredibly sad, just as sad as the spirits, gnomes and trolls roaming the earth for Norway's "Lussinatten."
"Lussi," that intimidating enchantress, punished anyone who dared work. So kick back, everyone, and enjoy those complimentary Tom and Jerrys on Christmas Eve afternoon, like I used to, at the Met Lounge in Morris. (I'm more of a homebody now, perhaps just getting older!)
Addendum: Penthouse Magazine reported in the mid-1970s that Garner Ted Armstrong "provided late-night companionship for thousands of truckers, was the voice of the morning for millions of farmers, and the living room preacher to a subculture of lonely, frightened and disoriented Americans." I'm not sure how to take that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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