Sustainability: Putting the Community back in the Holidays

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We arrived just as the sun was setting over the rolling, snow-covered hills of southwestern Wisconsin, an auburn glow fading as the sun became masked by clouds rolling in from the west. My family, including my mom, passed through the doors of the red, 5,500 square foot, barn-like Farwell Hall of the Folklore Village, located just outside Dodgeville. We were here to usher in the holidays by celebrating Saint Lucia’s Day one day early (in Sweden, it’s held on December 13).

Greeted by Melissa Leef, our convivial host and guide for the afternoon’s Swedish Sankta Lucia program, my family planned on staying for their community potluck, a St. Lucia candlelight ceremony with a singing performance by costumed children, and an evening of dance (with the guidance of a dance instructor-caller) later that evening. The evening program turned out to be a blend of the traditional rural Wisconsin “house party” – for which we host at least once a year at our Inn Serendipity – and small town community gatherings common among church or other social groups.

With all the talk of sales, black Friday, Cyber Monday, and such, the program offered by the Folklore Village harkened to a time where the holidays we’re less about stuff and more about love, sharing, and community.

During the afternoon, we joined a group of more than fifty to make Scandinavian straw ornaments and try our hands at shaping various patterns of the traditional Lussekatter, Swedish saffron buns (we got to savor them later in the evening). Between the afternoon and evening program, board games were brought out for guests to enjoy while conversing. Completely — and wonderfully — absent was the TV blaring in the background.

From young to old, and with all experience levels, the evening of Scandinavian dance provided both camaraderie and a hilarious opportunity to spin, turn and bump our way to learning various traditional dance steps. Akin to the “Yes-No game” of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, we even circled around and played games suitable to all in the family.

Promoting and Celebrating Cultural Ecology

Folklore Village is a nationally recognized folk arts and culture center dedicated to enriching lives through time honored traditions. Since 1968 thousands of people of all ages have come to Folklore Village to gather with friends, meet new people, eat, dance, sing and play. Folklore Village provides a platform for learning about the vital web of relationships between people, place, time and traditions while furthering local, national and international respect and understanding. They call it cultural ecology. Folklore Village offers more than 100 events or programs throughout the year.

Besides Farwell Hall, the 94-acre property includes Wakefield School, a 1893 one-room schoolhouse, the 1882 Plum Grove Church, a 30-acre tall grass prairie restoration and the preservation of the 1848 Wisconsin home of Norwegian immigrant and renowned craftsman, Aslak Olsen Lie.

While the Folklore Village was officially founded in 1968, it first started bringing people together much earlier, in the Depression era of the 1930s. “It started informally by Jane Farwell, who came to eventually start Folklore Village years later. It was the period of the Great Depression and seen as a means of community building and sharing food and traditions,” says Doug Miller, Executive Director of the Folklore Village.

“Today individuals, families and communities are once again feeling the economic and cultural stresses of hard times,” admits Miller. “What was true in the 1930s is equally true today. Traditions still possess the power to connect and rejuvenate individuals, families and communities.  A lot of joy and healing can happen when we make the time to break bread and dance together.”

Perhaps there not a better time for embracing the values of Folklore Village, values like cultural understanding, community, inter-generational collaboration, maintaining tradition bearers, and active participation (as apposed to passive observation). During these times of change, such vision of community can bring us together to celebrate what’s truly important.

Photography: John D. Ivanko/

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