Members from the Astoria community share what their Nordic Holiday traditions looks like!
The holiday season in Astoria starts on Friday, November 27, the day after Thanksgiving, when the local Nordic community celebrates the Lucia Festival of Lights. Participants meet at a designated point and the Lucia Court with white-gowned bride, attendants, and star boys of all ages parade down both sides of the Commercial Street in downtown Astoria carrying electric candles. Afterwards, participants gather for a cup of punch or coffee and individual packets of pulla supplied by Finnish Brotherhood. Of course, this year all participants were masked and maintained social distance.
Finn Ware in Astoria is the center of holiday shopping for the local Nordic community. Proprietor Saara Mathews served as Miss Finland and was crowned Miss Scandinavia at the 1988 Astoria Midsummer Festival. She says holiday items arrive daily and she’s currently overrun by Tomtar. What would Christmas morning be without stocking stuffers like Marimekko socks, salted licorice, and fresh marzipan bars?
Following their successful take-out laksloda luncheon in October, the Astoria Finnish Brotherhood offers frozen prune tarts for the holiday season. Using their historic Uniontown recipe (which they will not share), the tarts are available for purchase during the early days of December.
Loran and Corleen Mathews are longtime volunteers in the Nordic community. Loran has served on the Astoria City Council and budget committee and been festival chair many times. Currently he’s president of the non-profit Astoria Scandinavian Heritage Association. His holiday preparations include pickling fish so he can have several jars ready to give as gifts. Corleen sold Norwegian krumkake at the Midsummer Festival for years and is used to making them by the hundreds. This year she’ll only need a few dozen as the holidays will be limited to immediate family only. Both Loran and Corleen are saddened not to have family lefse making at the Sons of Norway Hall this year. In non-COVID times, members come together in early November to make lefse to take home for holiday eating.
Leila Koskela Collier is former chair of the Astoria Scandinavian Festival and current chair of the Festival Court committee. Her parents Vaino and Lempi Koskela emigrated from Finland in the 1950s. A favorite Koskela holiday recipe is Lanttulaatikko or Finnish rutabaga casserole. Like her mother, Leila cooks by feel. Cooked rutabagas are mashed like potatoes and then mixed with a little flour, sugar, cream, ginger, salt and pepper, and topped with butter pats and baked in the oven. Leila advises to go by taste to get the perfect results.
Tin melting on New Year’s Eve is another holiday tradition for the Koskela family. Tin is melted over a flame into a bowl and then poured into cold water to make designs. Everyone interprets the designs for signs of what will happen in the upcoming year and the tin pieces are often saved for years. The Koskela family is used to low-key New Year’s Eve celebrations and always finds tin melting a fun and mystical thing to do.
Nordic traditions are alive in Astoria and being passed to future generations. When Astoria Nordic Heritage Park is finished, there will be a permanent monument to the delightful and unique contributions of Nordic immigrants to the local community.