Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nancy Franson’s Christmas vignette, “Julotta”

Your Christmas vignettes, continued ~

Our guest blog posts—vignettes you wrote—continue today with Nancy Franson's Julotta. (If you missed our first two, Samantha White's* story or Kathy Pooler's,* click on links below.)

Nancy's story stirred up fond scenes from my growing-up years. I know you’ll enjoy it, too:


When my husband, the beloved Swede, and I were newly engaged, he took me to visit the church where he and his family worshiped. My father-in-law had emigrated from Sweden as a child and had always been a member of a denomination with strong Scandinavian roots. As we walked into the sanctuary, I swear, I noticed everyone's hair and eyes were the same color. The blond-haired, blue-eyed congregation smiled politely at me, the tall, dark-haired, brown-eyed visitor.

Because once upon a time, my hair really was brown.

While sitting in the pew, I quickly scanned the church bulletin filled with names of folks from the congregation--Johnson, Swenson, Anderson, Lindquist,  I felt like raising my hand and announcing, "My grandmother's maiden name was Donaldson," in hopes that the good Scandinavian folks would accept me as one of their own.

During communion I tasted my piece of bread and recognized a familiar flavor. It was Swedish Limpa. I realized then that these folks were serious about maintaining their Swedish heritage. I wouldn't have been surprised if, instead of wine, the communion cups had been filled with coffee.

Some years later, when our daughter was nine years old, we were heavily invested in reading The Little House on the Prairie series. Stories of immigrants and pioneers captivated her imagination. I saw that a local church, founded in 1898 by Swedish immigrants, was hosting a traditional Julotta service at 6:30 Christmas morning. The senior beloved Swedes had recently moved nearby, and I thought attending this service with them would be a lovely way to celebrate Christmas morning.

It had seemed a good idea at the time. At 5:00 Christmas morning, I wasn't so sure. We had to wake our children (What kind of parent wakes their kids Christmas morning?) and drag them out the door, past the tree and its pile of waiting presents.

Temperatures had dropped overnight causing light rain to freeze on roadways. I watched out the window as a pair of headlights appeared and a car slowly made its way down our street. It had to be my in-laws, I thought. Surely no one else would be out at that time, in those conditions. We cautiously made our way over dark, twisting roads, breathing silent prayer for one unfortunate traveler whose car had fallen prey to the slick conditions.

The tiny sanctuary in the church was lit only by candles placed on the windowsills. We slipped quietly into the wooden pews and were called to worship:

    Varen icke forskrackta. Se, jag badar eder en stor gladje, son skall vederfaras allt folket...

     Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people...

Winter in Sweden is cold, dark, and dreary. Because of its geographic location, winter days are long and dark until the solstice on December 22. Christmas celebrations, in contrast, are rich with images of light dawning and candles glowing. Throughout the service, in both Swedish and English, we listened to scriptures and sang hymns celebrating the birth of the One who is the Light of the World. As the service progressed Christmas morning dawned, the sun's light slowly overcoming the dark sanctuary.

At the close of the service, we were treated to coffee, mulled cider, and Swedish breads. We listened to stories from elderly members reminiscing about Julotta services they had attended as children. Many recalled how their parents and grandparents had traveled by sleigh, bundled in blankets, to welcome the dawn of Christmas.

It was a blessing, sharing with these folks a celebration of their Swedish heritage. Even greater, however, was the opportunity to rejoice in the heritage which both the beloved Swede and I share. We are privileged to know that, for each of us, generations of relatives have called upon the Lord and taught the scriptures to their children.

    ...surely (we) have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:6, NIV

And, at the end of that Christmas day, celebrating Julotta was what our daughter said she enjoyed most.

All hail to thee, O blessed morn!
To tidings long by prophets borne
hast Thou fulfillment given.

O sacred and immortal day,
when unto earth, in glorious ray,
descends the grace of heaven.

Singing, ringing, sounds are blending
praises sending into heaven
for the Savior to us is given!

(Traditional Swedish carol)

Thanks for this heartwarming story, Nancy. In Seattle I attended school and church with lots of Swedes and Norwegians—and now call some of those dear ones my relatives—so your images, traditions, and even surnames brought back fun memories for me.

Nancy originally published her story December 8, 2010, at her blog, Out of My Alleged Mind, at

Be sure to come back Wednesday because Diana’s Christmas story will grab your heart.

*Links and resources:

Samantha’s Christmas story,

Kathy’s Christmas story,

Nancy’s blog, Out of My Alleged Mind,


  1. Hi, Nancy. Merry Christmas! I didn't know about any of this, not having any Swedes in my family. Thanks for this window into your world.
    P.S. Love the part about how there should be coffee in the communion cups!

  2. Our 'home' church in Pasadena CA had a Julotta service until about 1970 or so. We joined in 1975, so missed that particular early morning, all-Swedish service, but we surely heard about it from all the Petersons/Larsons/ Andersons we met there! in 1997, I was ordained by that denomination - they began ordaining women in 1974 - and we'll likely be members of an Evangelical Covenant church until we die. It's a good place, a welcoming place and we enjoy our life together. It no longer has that strong Swedish ID - quite intentionally, actually - as we've had a number of Asian, Hispanic and African American congregations adopted into our ranks, enriching us greatly. Did you ever go to another one of those 5:00 a.m. gatherings? Personally, I was THRILLED that they were no longer an option by the time we found our way to the ECC. :>) Happy New Year, Nancy - and Linda, too.

  3. Diana and Megan, thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed Nancy's story. :)

    Diana, I wish I lived close enough to visit your church. It sounds like a place I'd feel right at home.

    C'mon back tomorrow because, Diana, I'm posting your Christmas story!


  4. What a delightful story of your Julotta tradition,Nancy. I have many fond memories of baking Christmas cookies and Swedish breads with my Swedish friends when I lived in Wisconsin. Your lovely story took me back there. Thanks so much for sharing!