Swedish Holiday Tradition

One of my favorite parts about working at Winterthur is learning about those in the community here. I was fortunate enough to meet Gloria Lagergren, a guide specialist and, as I learned, a very talented artist here at the museum.

Swedish ljuskrona

Ljuskrona seen on the Yuletide tour

I met Gloria in the context of learning about this year’s Yuletide tour, which in part, focuses on light and the various ways different cultures celebrate the holidays with light. For example, it has been a custom in the Swedish-American households since the early 20th century to incorporate the ljuskrona into the winter holiday celebrations. Traditionally, this paper-wrapped candleholder was brought out on Christmas Eve, refreshed with new paper trimmings, and placed on the dinner table during the night’s feast. More recently, however, families have linked their ljuskrona to the commemoration of St. Lucia and the church feast day honoring Lucia of Syracuse (b. 283–d. 304).  It is now more common now to bring out the candleholder on December 13, St. Lucia Day.

In light of the theme of this year’s Yuletide tour (no pun intended) and Winterthur’s celebration of the Swedish tradition, Gloria graciously shared with us her own experience with the tradition. Gloria’s granddaughter, Rebecca Ledden, participated in the Sankta Lucia Celebration, portraying the saint at Old Swedes Church in Wilmington. The church, built in 1698, is registered as a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest active church in its original building as well as the home of the nation’s oldest-known pulpit. To capture that beautiful event, Gloria painted a beautiful portrait of her granddaughter wearing the traditional crown of candles.

portraitThe story of Lucia was brought to Sweden by sailors telling of Italy’s Santa Lucia, a maiden who lived in the Sicilian town of Syracuse. According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents, but her father died when she was five years old. Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God and hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. However, not knowing of the promise, her mother, Eutychia, had other plans. She arranged Lucy’s marriage into a wealthy pagan family. The story continues that Lucy brought her mother, who was suffering from a bleeding disorder, to visit the shrine of Saint Agatha. Afterwards, Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith, her mother would be cured and Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse. Lucy took the opportunity to convince her mother to allow her to distribute a large part of her riches among the poor. The news of the riches, now gone, was heard by Lucy’s betrothed, and he denounced the union.

A very impressive artist, the picture of Rebecca was the first portrait Gloria had ever painted. Some of Gloria’s other works are landscape scenes that can be viewed from interior room windows in the museum.

Layout 1

Gloria Mitchell Lagergren earned her B.F.A. at Syracuse University and is a member of the Tau Sigma Delta honorary fraternity and Delta Delta Delta, her collegiate sorority. Her first employment in Wilmington was designing exhibits for the E. I. DuPont Company. She later established her own business designing needlepoint canvases. Gloria has been associated with Winterthur Museum as a guide specialist for many years. Among other projects for the museum she designed and painted needlework canvases and illustrated the Yuletide booklet. Many needlework kneelers she designed and painted can be seen in Delaware churches, especially Trinity and Christ Church in Wilmington. Her artwork is also in the Hotel DuPont, at the University of Delaware, and in many private collections.

Winterthur’s Yuletide tour is on view until January 5. For more information and scheduled programming, visit winterthur.org/yuletide.

Post by Hilary Seitz, Marketing Department

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