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  • Nordic Story Trail
  • julmarknad
  • christmas courtyard
  • grand hall jul

An extra/ordinary Holiday in Extraordinary Times

Nov 12, 2020 to Jan 10, 2021

Directed by Kara Hakanson | Cinematography by Ellie Drews | Sound by Arthur Hey
Editing by Penn Paulitech and Ellie Drews | Narration and Text by Kara Hakanson

While ASI is temporarily closed due to COVID precautions, we invite you to view the exhibition video and virtually explore An extra/ordinary Holiday in Extraordinary Times.

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. 

Winding through ASI’s courtyard and the Mansion grounds, the Nordic story trail is an outdoor experience with story stations designed by community partners from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland telling five popular tales.

From Sweden, come the timeless stories by author Astrid Lindgren about the playful Pippi Longstocking. In Iceland –  a gift of clothing protects children from the legend of the Yuletide cat. Across Finland, arctic foxes run over the frozen tundra, sparking fires that light up the sky. For Norway, storytelling is explored through song and nisse, the mythological protector of farms. In Denmark, a classic story by Hans Christian Andersen about a little fir tree encourages us to live in the moment.

Tales From the Five Nordic Countries


Sweden Pippi story, holiday 2020.jpg

Sweden Pippi story, holiday 2020.jpg
Sweden's Pippi story, ASI Holidays 2020

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. This annual celebration on January 13 marks the end of the winter holiday season and concludes 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! The trail 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.

Step into Pippi’s world, as designed by Kerstin Beyer-Lajuzan and Katja Ornberg representing the Minnesota chapter of SWEA International. Watch the story of "Pippis jul" in Swedish on SVT here.



Iceland's story station, holiday 2020
Iceland's story station, ASI Holidays 2020

According to Icelandic folklore, in the dark winter evenings a large, ferocious Yuletide cat pursues children who did not get a new piece of clothing for Christmas. The hungry feline comes down from the mountains to steal the children’s food and gifts or, worse, eat them!

To avoid this fate, everybody on the farm would work hard to get the wool cleaned, spun and woven, knit or crocheted into clothing before Christmas. 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.

The Iceland 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 story and scenography of the Yuletide cat was shared by Rannveig Hommema and Katrin Sigurdardottir.

A beautiful poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum, published in 1932, describes the cat and the fear it instills - hear the poem in Icelandic, read by Katrin Sigurdardottir, in the video below.



Finland Story, ASI Holiday 2020
Finland Fire Fox Story, ASI Holiday 2020

One of Finland’s most iconic stories is that of the Fox Fires, Revontulet, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. It is said that the auroras were created by arctic foxes running over the frozen tundra creating sparks that light fires in the sky.

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 has been translated into a sculptural pavilion that emulates the spirit of the Revontulet. In person, visitors can sit or lay on the benches below the structure to reflect on the wonder of being in the moment and imagining the Northern Lights.

The installation was designed by local Finnish artist and designer Tia Keo. Watch the story of Revontulet from Visit Finland here.


Norway Story Station, ASI Holiday 2020

Norway Story Station, ASI Holiday 2020
Norway Story Station, ASI Holiday 2020

In Norway, På låven sitter nissen is a classic Christmas tale that tells the story of a nisse (a small, gnome-like creature) and his julegrøt (Christmas porridge). The nisse is cozily enjoying his julegrøt when several mischievous rats begin to tease and dance around him. He becomes so angry at 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.

Storytelling comes in many forms, including song. På låven sitter nissen is sung throughout the holiday season in Norway and is especially beloved by children. In the video below, På låven sitter nissen is performed on the nyckleharpa by ASI staff member Ingrid Aune.



Denmark's Story Station, ASI Holiday 2020
Denmark's Story Station, ASI Holiday 2020

In the forests of Denmark, there once was a pretty, little fir-tree wanting so desperately to be bigger, taller and to have an adventurous life. All the while, the little tree did not enjoy the life it led day in and day out. Until, one day, it achieves its goals only to be disappointed and long for the days back when it was just a little tree in the forest.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote this story, The Fir Tree, in 1845 and its message is still relevant today. Many of us have learned this lesson as we embrace our surroundings and seasons, when the air is cold, but the sun still beams down to warm our hearts.

The fir tree grove under the warm winter sun decorated with handmade ornaments was designed by Susan Loschenkohl and Susan Jacobsen. Hear the full story read in Danish by Steen Moeller in the video below.

Holiday Mansion

The ASI has decorated the entire Turnblad Mansion, extending the bright colors and featured objects of the extra/ordinary exhibition with playful, contemporary decorations.

At the center of the ASI story is the ongoing support of a wonderful community during these extraordinary times.  Hundreds of handcrafted paper hearts, made with love by ASI members and neighbors, hang in the Nelson Cultural Center lobby to greet guests in this gathering place for all.

Although the holiday season will be celebrated differently this year, the reasons we celebrate remain the same. Let us treasure our shared traditions and forge ahead with new memories that shape stories with hope for a brighter tomorrow. 

Holiday Mansion Slide Show

  • Grand Hall, Holiday 2020
  • Dining Room Xmas Tree - Holiday 2020
  • Poinsettia Dress, Holiday 2020
  • Purple Music Room, Holiday Mansion 2020
  • Library - ASI Holidays 2020
  • Holiday Mansion - Gallery C Xmas Tree
  • Seven Swans a Swimming in the Ball Pit, Holiday Mansion 2020

Ticket Info

All admission requires advanced registration. 
Admission & Registration

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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.