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Friday, December 16, 2011

Swedish Christmas Tree - Ljuskrona

In 1976, Ruth Olsson Dixon (1910-2006), wife of Judge Laverne A. Dixon, donated to the museum a unique expression of her Swedish-American heritage—a ljuskrona.

The Olsson Family ljuskrona made in 1922 by a tinsmith in Moline, Illinois. LCDM 76.15.60

Ljuskrona (pronounced use-kroona) is a term used for candelabra, and in this case, one in the shape of a tree used during the Christmas season from December 13 to January 13.

The ljuskrona is linked to the Swedish holiday of Saint Lucia Day (December 13), who is the "bringer of light." This feast day replaced the winter solstice, which in ancient times was celebrated on December 13.

Saint Lucia Day marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Very early on that morning, the eldest daughter of the family wakes up her parents and brings them a warm cup of coffee with lots of milk and a special cake. The girl wears a wreath of candles on her head, bringing light to her family.

The holiday tree in this postcard is reminiscent of the Olsson's ljuskrona with its festive decorations and lighted candles. The Swedish Christmas postcard was sent to Alice Carlson of Waukegan from Klara in Lundsbrunn, Sweden, 1919. LCDM Collection.

Ruth's mother, Anna M. Olsson (b. 1879), immigrated from Smöland, Sweden in 1894. She married Gustaf A. Olsson in 1900, and soon thereafter settled in Rock Island, Illinois, where Ruth was born.

According to Ruth, about 1922 her mother decided to "omit the usual fresh Christmas tree with lighted candles. She asked a friend who was a tinsmith in Moline, Illinois to make a ljuskrona which could be kept and used every year."

The tinsmith needed 3" crimped "pie plates" for the candle drip pans. Ruth found them (above) at Luknow's (?) Pharmacy on 14th Avenue and 42nd Street in Rock Island. The metal plates were filled with a chocolate fudge mixture and came with a tiny inch-long spoon, and cost only a penny each. I'm sure twelve-year old Ruth was very excited by her tasty contribution to the family's ljuskrona.

Weeks later, the tinsmith delivered the ljuskrona to the family. "It was not very attractive until it was 'dressed' with fringed tissue paper," Ruth wrote in a letter to the museum in 1991. Detail of ljuskrona LCDM 76.15.60

When Anna came to live with Ruth in Lake County, she brought the ljuskrona and gifted it to her daughter. Ruth then updated the decorations with gold-beaded garland and gold ornaments.

The Olsson's ljuskrona is an unusual piece of folk art and remembrance of the family's Swedish heritage. As Ruth wrote: "Without electric lights the candle lighted ljuskrona is fascinating."

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