Tracing Delaware’s Heritage Back to Sweden
From the state flag to annual celebrations and all the historical sites in between, many of Delaware’s traditions have their roots in Swedish heritage.
Delawareans needn’t look far to spot the link between Delaware and Sweden. The city of Wilmington’s flag is blue and yellow, which are also the colors the Swedish flag.
The Wilmington flag flies throughout the city, but the primary traces of the Swedes’ legacy are clustered around the site of the original Swedish settlement on the Christina River, where several events have become beloved annual traditions.
Take the Sankta Lucia celebration, organized by the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society and held at Old Swedes Church.
The event occurs on or near Dec. 13, the feast day of St. Lucy, or Lucia, a fourth-century Sicilian. Dedicated to helping the poor—to the point of giving up her dowry—Lucy was sentenced to burn at the stake when she wouldn’t renounce Christianity. Legend has it that the pyre refused to light, and she was stabbed instead.
No one knows how the Italian saint’s tragic story became linked with a Swedish celebration. (She is one of the few saints that the Lutherans recognize.) Some say it’s because the name Lucia comes from the Latin root, lux, which means “light,” a commodity in Sweden.
Far from being a mournful occasion, the Sankta Lucia event at Old Swedes features songs—in English and Swedish—tales of New Sweden and refreshments. “It’s very special,” says Mary McCoy, past president of the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society. Each year, one young girl is selected to represent St. Lucia. She wears a white robe and the signature crown of candles. Although Old Swedes is now an Episcopal church, the congregation relishes the celebration.
To salute the forefathers, the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society has traditionally held a wreath-laying ceremony near or on March 29, the date the colonists settled in Delaware. The ceremony occurs at “The Rocks,” believed to be the site of Fort Christina, and the wreath is placed near a monument created by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles.
“We join for luncheon afterward and present toasts to the President of the United States, the king of Sweden and of course to our forefathers,” says
Frances Allmond, who can trace her ancestry back to the first Swedish settlers in Delaware.
This year the society incorporated the ceremony into Colonists’ Day, also an annual event, which was held on April 13 in cooperation with the New
Sweden Centre. The society also holds a cold Swedish-style supper in fall that “of course always includes salmon,” Allmond says. “It’s fun to see the variety of food that’s prepared and brought to the buffet table.”
Throughout the tri-state region there are organizations dedicated to educating people about the early settlers’ traditions and heritage. Last August, several nonprofits formed the New Sweden Alliance, an umbrella group with 10 voting members and numerous affiliates. The anniversary is their first joint effort. “This is a big project for us,” says Sheila Romine, the alliance’s president. “Each of our groups is valid on their own, but together we can have a much stronger voice in the community.”
Romine grew up near Jamestown, Va., at a time when the historic site blossomed into a major tourist attraction. “I watched it change and the awareness grew,” she says. “I’d love to see something like that happen here.”
For information on the New Sweden Alliance members, their mission and events, visit 375th.org.
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