Are you preparing for Christmas? Your Swedish
relatives are preparing for another occasion, called Lucia. Do you recognize
it? It’s in honour of the young lady Lucia who was burned to death in
Syracusa on Sicily 304. Lucia, in Sweden, is celebrated on December 13th. By
the way, thanks Evan for the last email. It’s so beautiful and reminds us
how happy we should be of what we have and that the majority of the world’s
population don’t have.
I thought it was time to give some additional
information about the family. This issue could be pretty complicated; who is
who and who is related to who and how. Not all of the stories are pleasant
though. I have put in what Jaime wrote in order to describe the Lucia
celebration in Seattle. Family matters can be pretty complicated, so just
let me know if there was something below that you didn’t understand and/or
if you had any interest in it at all.
I have added some information regarding our
relative in Africa. Her name was Vanette Thorsell and her great grandfather,
Peter, was the uncle of Olaus Larsson. Peter was vaccinated in the 1810's.
Sweden was if not the first, at least one of the first countries in the
world that give the population an extended vaccination. Almost every little
child in the 1810's and after went through this process. But it didn't help
Peter from getting another diseases. He later was "crippled with
rheumatism". Olaus Larsson's father, Lars, got small poxes. One of Lars'
sister, either Cajsa or Stina, also had small poxes. But she survived as
well. Peter became a peasant and got many children. One of them, Petter, was
a school teacher and chaned his last name from Petersson to Thorsell. Petter
Thorsell also had many children of whom four moved to USA and settled down
there. Klaes (Charles) Thorsell had - as to the best of my knowledge - two
children; Vanette and Stanley. Vanette Thorsell appears to have lived an
exciting and dangerous life, since Congo/Zaire for decades has been affected
by civil war and dictatorship. It was most likely not a bed of roses. I have
put in what Diane Prior (the niece of Vanette Thorsell) wrote to me about
Vanette Thorsell was my father’s sister. She was a
missionary for Swedish Mission Covenant Church in the Belgium Congo (Zaire,
Dem. Republic of Congo … the country had many name changes since the
1960’s). She died in Zaire in 1991 and is buried there. She spoke many
languages including French, Lingala (Congo trade language), some Spanish,
Swedish and of course English. I studied French in high school but that was
a long time ago. Her father, my grandfather was Charles Thorsell. He was
in the Merchant Marine (we don’t call it “navy” as “navy” refers to the
military). Part of his career was as captain of the ship; he was known as
“Red Charlie” because of his red hair. He died in 1940 of an illness while
the ship he was on was in Oregon or Washington (state, not D.C.).
You asked about our Lucia service...it is held this
coming Sunday night, and unfortunately this year I have a concert conflict.
(I have joined the Seattle Flute Society Flute Choir and we have a rehearsal
at that time, so now we are unable to go as we usually do.) Even though I am
involved in several Christmas concerts, the Santa Lucia service is one we
have attended, rather than performed in. We are not formal 'participants'
at the Swedish ceremony, but rather participate in the congregational
responses and singing. We have attended this service for many years and
enjoy it immensely. My girls have never been a Lucia bride (except for fun
at home)...the church chooses young ladies from their own congregation for
this honor. (We attend a different fellowship). If I find a program from
the past, I will let you know the particular songs we do each year. I will
look for one and let you know what they are.
Another tradition in Sweden was the cemetery dances
on Midsummer Eve Night and the Botvid Night were common in the old days on
many places in southern Sweden. The young people gathered and danced, sang
bawdy and scandalous songs and sometimes even made love on the cemetery. The
origin of this tradition is duskily, but the cemetery is a place which is
connected with both love and death. Complaints came from the bishop in Lund
but to no avail. The tradition continued, for how long I don’t know though.
The author Vilhelm Moberg has written about this in the book The Brides’
The church wasn’t always the sacred place that we
might think. Our ancestors danced on every party. They danced at the harvest
and feasts and even at the wake. The reason was that it was not only
pleasant but necessary. It was important, during the wake, that the deceased
would resume dead and not return (ghost). They tried to conjure up the
deceased so that wouldn’t happen. If the relatives and friends also could
give the fresh body a nice last moment before he or she forever was put in
the earth, so much better. But the church didn’t agree. The exhilarated
dances at the wake met a stern destiny. The phenomenon was banned in Norway
(1607), Denmark (1656) and Sweden (1644).
But our ancestors in Sweden had been the centre of
the church’s interest 300 years earlier. On a bishop meeting in Slesvig
(1222) promulgated the papal legate Gregorious de Crescentio an edict that
banned ring dance, games, drama and scuffle in the church buildings,
something that clearly shows what the Scandinavians thought was fun and
natural to do.
But the complaints continued. People were sitting
on the organ loft; played cards and spitted on the people sitting in the
benches under the loft. Church visitors consumed alcohol outside the church
and some even threw up in the church and some fell asleep. This was the
situation in the area where our ancestors and relatives lived around 1750.
Even the priest was not immune. There were indications that he was
unfaithful and broke against the church’s own rules, however he got support
from some people in the community and one of them was our ancestor, Nils
Andersson, which is rather interesting especially when you consider what the
priest was accused of.
From 1731 farmers who paid an extra tax were
allowed to hooch or moonshine for so-called “household requirements”. There
were also speakeasies in Torsås too. I’ll see if I can come up with some
pictures of the Lucia celebration in Sweden on 13th December.