Jackee Allmond, 15, lives in Carrcroft and goes to Concord High School. Her ties to neighborhood and school are pretty much the same as an other teenager's. But she also has much deeper ties to the Delaware River Valley. She is a direct link, 12 generations removed, to the area's original Swedish settlers.

"I think it's interesting, but it's not something we (youngsters her age) talk about. very much," she said. "I don't really think much about being Swedish."

But her ethnic heritage will take the spotlight on Dec. 8 when she portrays St. Lucy -- complete with a lighted candles headdress -- in the annual local enactment of a traditional Swedish celebration of

Sankta Lucia. The event, at Old Swedes Church and the Hendrickson House museum at Seventh and Church Sts. in Wilmington beginning at 3 p.m., is open to the general public.

The original St. Lucy was a fourth century Sicilian virgin and martyr, who is venerated by both Latin and Greek Christians. Swedes share making a special thing out of observing her feast day -- it is actually on Dec. 13 -- with Italians. Women of St. Anthony of Padua, the ethnic Italian Catholic parish, used to have a St. Lucy Society.

Be that as it may, Jo Thompson, director of the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society, said the commemoration, both in Sweden and here, has evolved into a secular celebration. It has more to do with the coming of winter than piety and martyrdom.

That, she explains, is because the name Lucia is a derivative of lux, the Latin word for light. And light is a precious commodity in Scandinavia. Anyone around here who's put off by the prospect of driving home from work as night falls around five o'clock in December can appreciate what it must be like at Sweden's more northerly latitude brings twilight while we're still having afternoon.

That is why Swedish and Norse sailors long ago brought Lucy back to their homelands, where she has become centerpiece of the winter solstice counterpoint to Midsummer Eve, celebrated in June when things up north, astronomically speaking, are looking up.

But Sankta Lucia is not about gloom, either. "It's a family festival," Thompson said.

As a society fact sheet explains, the Swedish tradition calls for the eldest daughter to rise at dawn on the shortest day of the year, dress in a white gown with a red sash, a la St. Lucy, and, by candlelight and accompanied by her brothers and sisters, bring lusse (lucy) bread, ginger cookies and coffee to her parents.

Jackee Allmond (above) will portray St. Lucy in the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society's Sankta Lucia celebration. She will be accompanied (below) by attendants Taylor Long and Meg Thomas and star boy Nathaniel Long.

At Old Swedes that will adapted to include songs in English and Swedish, stories about colonial New Sweden and the Swedes and Finns who settled here, and light refreshments. As Lucia, Allmond will be accompanied by attendants, stjarngossar (star boys) and tomten (elves). She worked her way into the lead position by serving in prior years as an attendant.

Underlying that apprenticeship is the fact that Frances Allmond, Jackee's grandmother, is descended from both Tymen Stidham, who came over in 1638 on the first voyage of the good ship Kalmar Nyckel and served the colony as barber-surgeon, and Olof Stille, who arrived here in 1641. Names of their respective wives are not known. Jackee's grandfather, Charles Allmond, traces his lineage to David Martonsson, who was aboard the Kalmar Nyckel on her third voyage, and his wife, Helena. Jackee's parents are Bayard and Susan Allmond.

Mary McCoy, past president of the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society, said that Sankta Lucia, held annually since 1977, is part of a continuing effort to keep alive the area's Swedish heritage.

To be sure, it has long been required learning in fourth grade public school classrooms in Delaware that the Swedes landed on The Rocks in what is now Fort Christina Park, off East Seventh Street in Wilmington, and called the surrounding neighborhood New Sweden. They built Old Swedes Church -- more accurately, Holy Trinity Church -- which is one of the oldest buildings in the nation used continually as a house of worship.

The story goes that the Dutch then moved in and took over, ending Sweden's only attempt to establish a New World presence. Until fairly recently, the popular belief is that the original Swedes all but lost their presence, too.

Not so, said McCoy.

During the 17 years that they held the reins, New Sweden spread throughout the region. Swedes settled, farmed, milled and engaged in other pursuits all along both sides of the river between what is now Smyrna and Trenton, N.J. There was a good deal of intermarriage among the Colonial-era families, which established a lasting identity despite the many marriages outside the clans.

However, it was not until the tricentennial of the initial colony in 1938, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Swedish Prince Bertil came to town to help celebrate the occasion, that an appreciation of the area's foundation came forward. But it was publication of Alex Haley's novel, Roots,  in 1974 that really sparked interest in genealogy and tracing ancestries.

Frances Allmond said it was not until the 1970s that she "realized and appreciated where we came from."

Ethnic awareness being what it is nowadays, McCoy said the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society has a mailing list of about 200 families which share the area's Swedish heritage.

Posted on November 23, 2002

© 2002. All rights reserved.

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