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Genealogy Club Celebrates Ancestral Holiday Traditions

Published: December 22, 2017 at 12:00 am

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Lynda DeLuryea holds up a santon representing the late French actor Yves Montand. Mrs DeLuryea was one of the guest speakers during the Genealogy Club of Newtown's holiday gathering on December 13. On the table in front of her are three additional…
Lynda DeLuryea holds up a santon representing the late French actor Yves Montand. Mrs DeLuryea was one of the guest speakers during the Genealogy Club of Newtown's holiday gathering on December 13. On the table in front of her are three additional santons, or creche figures, from her personal collection, and a poster from an exhibition she visited in France. (Bee Photo, Hicks)
Cathy Hugo holds up a "more modern tomte," she said. Contemporary tomtes look more like Santa Claus, she explained. Earlier versions of the mischievous spirits featured long white beards and a tall knit cap in red or another bright color, similar to…
Cathy Hugo holds up a "more modern tomte," she said. Contemporary tomtes look more like Santa Claus, she explained. Earlier versions of the mischievous spirits featured long white beards and a tall knit cap in red or another bright color, similar to a garden gnome. (Bee Photo, Hicks)
From left are the four Santons from her personal collection Laura DeLuryea shared during her presentation for the genealogy club on December 13: The Baker, Man From Sancerre, Lady from Chamonix, and Yves Montand. The Santon crafted to honor the late…
From left are the four Santons from her personal collection Laura DeLuryea shared during her presentation for the genealogy club on December 13: The Baker, Man From Sancerre, Lady from Chamonix, and Yves Montand. The Santon crafted to honor the late French actor was modeled after a character Mr Montand portrayed in the popular movie Jean de Florette. (Bee Photo, Hicks)
Cathy Hugo's presentation on December 13 also included these detailed cocktail napkins that depict a traditional nisse, the friendly creature of Scandinavian folklore that frequents farm buildings.  (Bee Photo, Hicks)
Cathy Hugo's presentation on December 13 also included these detailed cocktail napkins that depict a traditional nisse, the friendly creature of Scandinavian folklore that frequents farm buildings. (Bee Photo, Hicks)

Lynda DeLuryea is not of French descent, but she does love all things French.


She has been lucky enough, she told guests during last week's Genealogy Club of Newtown program, to have lived twice during her life in French-speaking countries. Her husband also happens to be of French descent, she said.


The Newtown resident was the first of four speakers during the December 13 meeting of the club. Gathering in the lower meeting room of C.H. Booth Library that evening, attendees enjoyed the traditional premeeting networking and light refreshments. Many also purchased tickets for the holiday raffle held after the evening's program, before Club Chair Audrey DeBlasio asked everyone to take their seats for the evening's program.


Ms DeLuryea opened her presentation by holding up a Santon, or little saint, one of hundreds that populate creche scenes. The Baker was the first in her collection, she said. It had been gifted by a friend, and had come from Aix en Provence.


"Nearly every French home displays a Nativity scene," she said. On a screen behind her, images of creche scenes she found online were displayed. "In France, they tend to display creche scenes, often showing a mountainside, and the journey of people heading toward the stable" for the birth of Christ, she said.


The costumes of the figures in the creches, she said, represented people in different stages of life. Many of them represent how people make their living.


Illustrations of The Miller, The Flower Seller, and The Fisherman - "which were very popular in France back in the day, because there is so much coastline in France," she said - were among the characters Ms DeLuryea introduced. She also shared illustrations of a priest and a mayor, saying the town dignitaries were so noted by red umbrellas that they carry.


"The scenes they set up are very elaborate," she said. There can be as many as 800 different figurines, she said before quickly adding, "I'm not going to make you sit through a presentation of all of them."


Instead, Ms DeLuryea focused on some of her favorite characters, including The Man in Awe. The figure is always portrayed as a simple man, whose arms are raised toward the sky.


"He is so struck by what he sees, and the only gift he has to offer is his excitement and joy at the news," Ms DeLuryea explained. "He is blissful, innocent, naive."


Ms DeLuryea also introduced additional Santos figures from her collection. The first was Man from Sancerre, who represents the region in southern France primarily associated with Sauvignon blanc.


Next was Lady from Chamonix, representing the resort area near the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy.


The final figurine she shared with the group was a man holding a bunch of lavender, crafted to represent the late French actor Yves Montand.


 

Tomte, Nisse & Lutefisk


Cathy Hugo also discussed traditions from her family's ancestry. Her maternal grandparents came from Sweden, and her paternal grandparents were from Norway, the Sandy Hook resident shared with the group.


Scandinavia, said Mrs Hugo, does not have a Santa Claus. Instead, they have a "tomte" in Sweden. In Norway, children and adults honor "nisse."


"It's a carryover from pagan traditions, so it really is not related to Santa Claus at all," she said. "Santa Claus came later. These are the original folks who owned the land, and they still own it, and they allow people to live on it," she said to explain the folklore behind the characters.


While Americans leave plates of cookies and glasses of milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, tomte and nisse are tempted on Christmas Eve by "a huge bowl of porridge," Mrs Hugo said.


Mrs Hugo also spoke of St Lucia, or the Queen of Light, the focus of a major celebration in Sweden each December 13.


"The family's oldest daughter will be dressed in a long white gown, and will wear a crown of candles," Mrs Hugo said. "Schools and towns will choose a girl to represent St Lucia, which is a big deal.


"They chose a saint of light," she continued, "because they don't get much light over there."


Scandinavian decorations, she said, "incorporate a lot of candles. They're put on mantels, and windows. They have candles everywhere."


Mrs Hugo also discussed some of the decorations that are used for tree trimming, and that Christmas Eve is most often when trees are decorated. Church services are a 5 pm, followed by a smörgåsbord, the buffet-style Swedish presentation with multiple hot and cold dishes of various foods on a table.


Tomte has delivered gifts by this time, which are then opened by families.


Christmas Day church services begin at 6 am, followed by a light breakfast. After that, preparations begin for


Christmas dinner, which often incorporates a Swedish ham or lutefisk as the main course.


"My grandfather did lutefisk twice," Mrs Hugo said of the traditional dish of aged stockfish (air-dried fish) or dried and salted white fish and lye that can take up to 12 days to prepare.


"He did it in the bathtub, which inconvenienced everybody," she continued, earning laughter from the audience. "We only let him do that twice."


 

More Sharing


While not specifically holiday themed, two additional presentations celebrated the joy that families find in shared recipes.


Karen Hedinger shared a cookbook she had created for her daughter. A recent graduate from James Madison University, Mrs Hedinger's daughter had asked for some of her favorite recipes.


"I went a step further and created this for her graduation," Mrs Hedinger said, holding up a hardbound book she made through the website Blurb. The collection featured family favorites coupled with photographs that enhanced each page, she said.


Bea Morgan closed the presentations by showing a collection of recipes she has been writing out and keeping in a binder for her children and grandchildren. She has been working on the collection, she said, for more than 17 years.


Genealogy Club Chair Audrey DeBlasio thanked Mrs Hedinger and Mrs Morgan, saying "It's important to save and share recipes."

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