Perhaps at no other time of year is the strong Scandinavian Lutheran heritage of the Upper Midwest more apparent than during the Christmas season…when choirs and churches ring with the beautiful choral music of the season. Perhaps best known is the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival, which is listed as one of five significant global holiday events in The New York Times…but there are scores more, including the annual Advent Vespers of Augsburg College held at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis pictured below.
When Scandinavians began arriving in the United States in the 1800s their agrarian roots drew them to the Midwest plains and prairies. Sparsely populated at the time, they created their own uniquely Scandinavian American way of life. The Lutheran Church, which was the official church of Scandinavia, became the unifying center of many communities, where people shared their common heritage.
Most Scandinavians had also belonged to community organizations in their home countries, and they set about establishing new societies and social clubs in their new communities, including choirs, cooking clubs and sports teams. Their societies also performed crucial social-welfare functions, providing financial aid and unemployment benefits to struggling families. These roots led many immigrants to take active roles in American social reforms, including the abolition of slavery and the labor movement.
Because the official Lutheran Church in Scandinavia required that all children be taught to read and write, immigrants arrived with a high level of literacy. Those roots led them to found church-sponsored institutions of higher education, and their social singing clubs fostered a strong choral tradition which lives on today in Lutheran colleges and churches alike.
Click here to listen to online streaming music at Minnesota Public Radio, including Christmas festivals and concerts.
Wishing you a Christmas that brings you joy.