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An extra/ordinary Holiday in Extraordinary Times

Nov 14, 2020 to Jan 10, 2021

Stories rise up through the ages, shared from generation to generation, to shape our dreams, history, traditions and especially our celebrations. Join the American Swedish Institute this holiday season as we bring stories to life through An extra/ordinary Holiday in Extraordinary Times

Visitors are invited to step into a story trail, an immersive outdoor experience with a series of storytelling stations winding through ASI’s courtyard and around the Mansion grounds. The stations were designed by community partners from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland and, on select dates, the trail will be enhanced with music, bonfires and market stalls with artisan craftspeople offering their wares. Visitors can explore why we tell stories and how these tales impact us.

Sweden’s story station will build on the famous books written by Astrid Lindgren about the rambunctious Pippi Longstocking and her friends. Traveling to Iceland, the focus shifts to a folk tale about the Yuletide cat – only a gift of clothing can protect a child from this hungry feline. For Norway, storytelling is explored through song, hay barrels, fire and Nissen, the gnome-like protector of farms. In Finland, Fox Fire is generated by arctic foxes running over the frozen tundra, sparking fires that light up the sky. For Denmark, the story of The Fir Tree by famed author Hans Christian Andersen encourages us to live in the moment as we experience a grove of fir trees – one of the most recognized symbols of the holiday season.

Indoors, ASI will continue its 40-plus year tradition of decorating the entire Turnblad Mansion, extending the bright colors and featured objects of the extra/ordinary exhibition with playful, contemporary decorations. An array of handcrafted hanging hearts collected from ASI members and neighbors will greet guests as they arrive.

Although the holiday season will be celebrated differently this year, the reasons we celebrate remain the same. We honor family, friends and loved ones, treasure our shared traditions and forge ahead with new memories that shape stories with hope for a brighter tomorrow. ASI is forever grateful for the ongoing support of a wonderful community and proud to be a gathering place for all. We look forward to welcoming you in person and online to learn, laugh, share joy and to experience An extra/ordinary Holiday in Extraordinary Times.

Tales From the Five Nordic Countries


After a season of longing for the gingerbread and candies on the tree, the Swedish tradition of Julgransplundring (Christmas tree plundering) means that the tasty treats may finally be enjoyed. These annual children’s parties on January 13 mark the end of the winter holiday season and conclude with dancing the tree out of the house. In Pippi Longstocking’s version, all children are invited to Villa Villekulla at dusk. There they find the monkey Herr Nilsson with a note instructing them to follow a candy trail (and eat it along the way!), which leads them to a tree full of presents, sweets and other delights. Beside it, they discover Pippi in a candle-lit snow fort filled with loads of cakes and a giant vat of hot cocoa. When Pippi heads out to grab more, she sees a new boy lingering in the shadows. He asks to join and promises not to touch anything. To which she replies, “Of course not! You may only come in if you promise to eat more than anyone else.” As the lump in his throat is replaced by the warmth and sweetness filling his belly, Pippi has let another child know that he belongs.


Icelandic folklore has it that on dark evenings before Christmas, a large, ferocious Yuletide cat who lived up in the mountains would pursue children who did not get a new piece of clothing for Christmas. The hungry feline either stole all their food and gifts or, worse, ate them! To avoid that fate, everybody on the farm worked hard to get the wool cleaned, spun and woven, knit or crocheted into clothing before Christmas. The ASI story station recreates the feeling of a small, dark baðstofa, a living room of the past, where it was easy to let your imagination run wild and believe that scary things were lurking in the shadows. The station also takes inspiration from a beautiful poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum, published in 1932, which describes the cat and the fear it instills. Come Christmas Eve, when children opened their gifts of new shoes or mittens, they were beaming with gratitude (and relief). To this day, people in Iceland make sure that kids get at least one “soft package” for Christmas and use the tale to encourage thoughts of those less fortunate around the holidays.


One of Finland’s most iconic stories is that of the Fox Fires, or the Revontulet, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. It is said that the auroras are created by arctic foxes running over the frozen tundra creating sparks that light fires in the sky. Ancient Finns were also known to call their magic spells revontulet, which suggests enduring magical and mystical interpretations of the Northern Lights. In the middle of winter, when the sun barely breaks the surface, light is one of the most revered aspects of the holidays. Tree lights, candles and gathering around fires are echoes of the larger, magnificent lights that dance above, cutting through the darkness, connecting us to something bigger and more expansive than ourselves. Such stories and myths connect to ancestors and the wisdom of the earth. This Finnish story will translate to a sculptural pavilion that emulates the spirit of the Revontulet. Sit or lay on the benches below the structure to momentarily reflect on the wonder of being in the moment and imagining the Northern Lights.


The Norway room is designed around the classic Norwegian Christmas tune På låven sitter nissen. The lyrics were written by Margrethe Munthe and tell the story of a nisse and his julegrøt (Christmas porridge). Nissen are small gnome-like creatures that protect farms and secretly act as guardians. If they are treated well, they keep the farm safe and bring good luck! Nissen are particularly fond of porridge or grøt. In På låven sitter nissen, the nisse is cozily enjoying his julegrøt. Several mischievous rats decide they would like the julegrøt and begin to tease and dance around the nisse. He becomes so angry with the rats who would dare steal his delicious julegrøt that he threatens to send for the barn cat! Luckily, this scares the rats away and the nisse is allowed to enjoy his porridge in peace. På låven sitter nissen is sung throughout the Jul season in Norway and is especially beloved by children.


It’s been said that the present is a gift. In this day and age it can be difficult to remember that. But it may hard to imagine that it was also true in 1845 when Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Fir Tree. The story is of the “pretty little fir-tree” wanting so desperately to be bigger, taller and to have the adventurous life that comes with it. All the while not enjoying the life it leads day in and day out until, eventually, it achieves its wish only to be again disappointed and to long again for the days in the forest. Many of us in the cold Northern climes have learned this lesson as we embrace our surroundings and seasons, extolling the days when the air is cold but the sun still beams down to warm our hearts.

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Minnesota artist activity is made possible by voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota.