KINGSBURG – Whether it’s creating giant paper lanterns as they do in the Philippines, lighting of the Menorah for Jewish holiday of Hanukkah or marching to church in a las posadas procession as is done in Mexico, each culture has its own holiday traditions unique to itself.
On Nov. 29, dancers enrolled in the Kingsburg’s Svenska Kids Musik Club #211 shared one of theirs: the making of paper julehjerter to fill with candy or nuts and hang on the Christmas tree.
Christin Holt leads the dance troupe and invited the children and parents to her home on 21st Avenue for an evening of making the Christmas hearts that are popular in the Danish and Norwegian cultures.
“They’re used on the Christmas tree as a decoration and as baskets for candies and nuts. Now, we just hang them on the tree for decoration,” she said.
Julehjerter is roughly pronounced ‘yu-luh-yuh-tuh,’ and the 'h' is silent, Holt said. And while the hearts can be made of any color, they’re typically made of repurposed, solid colored wrapping paper. Swedes will make theirs blue and golden yellow to reflect their country’s flag, but the Danes will make theirs out of white and red paper.
“It’s slippery and more flexible, but that’s makes it easier,” Holt said of the wrapping paper. It’s a good idea to iron the paper flat so it won’t curl once you’re finished.
“The Norwegians do all colors,” Holt said. “My favorite is gold and blue or silver and blue.”
Patiently, she demonstrated the basic weaving process for the children and adults.
“You go inside, then outside. The red goes inside the white, and then the red goes outside the white.”
The hearts are made out of two pieces of different colored, u-shaped paper that’s folded in half. Three slits are cut up the center of both. The pieces must be woven around and through each other to form the basic. See the instructions link for more details.
Holt’s daughter, Rebecca Elisabeth Holt, also helped by patiently showing the young children how to weave the cut and folded strands into a heart.
“The ones that have lines that start halfway through confuse me to pieces,” she said. Beginners are better off trying easier hearts with straight lines at first, she said.
Holt, 19, is actually Norwegian and Finnish and has grown up in Kingsburg taking part in all things Scandinavian. She even dances with the Fresno Danish Dancers and will fill in to instruct since one of their teachers has a broken leg. She said that even if you’re not Swedish, making the hearts is still a fun craft for the holidays.
“If you live in Kingsburg, or even know where Kingsburg is, and heard of Sweden, that’s close enough. Everybody’s an honorary Swede on the festival days,” she said.
Other traditions they keep for the holidays include decorating oranges with cloves to scent the entire house and baking pepperkakker spice cookies.
“We make lots of cookies and I’m so used to doing Scandinavian things for Christmas, it’s hard to pick it all out.”
Parent Andrew Bunnell brought his daughters Charlotte Bunnell, 9, and Olive Bunnell, 6, to make the julehjerter. Their family traditions now evolve more around food and music, he said. While they decorate with Dala horses and grew up eating traditional food, they typically just bought decorations. Now, he’s hoping his daughters will continue these cultural hobbies.
“We care about the Swedish village aspect of Kingsburg and since we have a musical family, I’ll play the guitar and sing songs in Swedish. They’ll eat Swedish cookies, sing songs in Swedish at home and they’ve been taking the dancing lessons for two years now.”
By the time she’d made her fifth heart, Charlotte was feeling more confident about her skills.
“As you’re doing it, you sometimes forget which way is which and which way you’re supposed to fold it. This is my fifth one, so I’m getting better. You start with the white one and weave it under and over as you go.”
Once you’re done and taped a handle in place on the inside, the trick is to see if it will open up to make a basket, Holt said.
Charlotte said she likes that not only does she get to do cultural things at home such as sing songs while her father plays guitar and eat sweet treats they bake, but also perform during special events in Kingsburg.
“We’re dancing right before the Santa Lucia parade. I like that I get to embrace my Swedish culture.”
Parent Jill Bowie also brought her daughter, Lexi Bissett, 13, to the craft session. Bowie recalls her mother making blue and yellow hearts out of construction paper and filling them with candy canes.
“We’d open them up Christmas morning and my dad would put money in them or that’s where he’d put the checks.”
Now that she was trying her hand at making them, she realized it wasn’t as hard as it looks.
“You just have to concentrate. It’s like a puzzle.”
Karen Rogers and her daughter, Alison Rogers, 9, are both taking dance lessons from Holt.
“I like having the mother and daughter time,” Karen Rogers said. “You can just decompress when you come here. It’s just a real relaxing time and you forget about everything else.”
Afterwards, the children took home a julehjerter for their own tree and Holt kept some to share during the Dec. 8 performance at the Norden Lodge’s annual Lucia Celebration and Lutfisk dinner at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Fresno.
Since the dancers spend so much time with the Holts, Rebecca said it’s more like spending time with her little cousins than just mere students. She likes that she gets to help pass on these traditions to extended ‘family.’
“I think it’s neat to share the culture of our little Swedish town with everybody, so it doesn’t get lost.”