Thinking about it in beforehand I have felt sad. Knowing it would be the last. The last one in modern time. And the last one forever. But, at my place on the front row singing the familiar hymns, surrounded by my four generation extended family, my heart was happy and I felt pride more than anything else. We have done this well.
I am the seventh generation on my mother’s side in my village, my sons the eighth. That’s as far as the family tree takes us. Once the little white wooden church was a bride. Born and built in the late twenties by my grandfather Carl and the farmers of the village, dressed by their women. Every Sunday they greeted her. But the early morning Christmas Day service, the “julotta”, was the most cherished celebration of the year.
Carl, a very driven man with a beautiful barytone, died 1945 and so did the julotta. In the middle of 1990, Margareta, another granddaughter of the men and women who created the village temple, and I, started fantasizing about arranging a julotta. The wooden church was still there, mostly quiet and and empty, what if we could wake it up from it’s involuntary inhibernation? What if we could fill it once again with warmth, music, words and people? What if?
And so we did. 1998 was the first year. The room warm from the electrical stove. The light shut down, replaced by flickering candles. People gathered in the pews, shaking hands, nodding, smiling, scooting after to let everybody have a seat. My village has been known for being musical, and it sounds like we still are. The Christmas hymns filling the room, lifting to the ceiling.
The agreement was only one julotta. And see how we felt about another one the year after. So, in October there was the phone call. How do we feel? Are we on?
The question was first put to Trouble & Trouble and their cousin Johannes. I was in charge of the music, and the boys were crucial in that sense, so if they were on, I was on. And if we were on, my cousin Torbjörn who is a pastor, was on. And if we were all on, the village was on. Margareta was Christmas dressing the church, some were baking for the after service coffee, my second cousin Roland was in charge of the marketing, my mother’s cousin Bertil, then 77 years old, played the organ. Everyone who wanted to be a part took on an assignment, and together we made it one more time.
And one more. And one more. In October, the call. At Christmas Day the julotta. For every year there were more people coming. No matter if it was a rainy or a white Christmas. We had created a tradition that people didn’t want to be without. Little did we know, Margareta and I, that the mid 1990 fantasy of our’s would be a 16 year long tradition, even outnumbering the Christmas morning services our grandfathers arranged 1930-45!
But everything must come to an end. At least most things are. Since some years the white wooden church is owned and taken care of by another village grand daughter, Christina. And Trouble & Trouble and Johannes are grown men starting their own family traditions. So, a year ago, we decided that 2014 would be our final julotta.
I am sitting at the front row. It’s -6°F (-21°C) outside and the trees are covered in snow. It’s freezing, yet 162 people have defied the early morning and the cold to come celebrate the last julotta. The little white wooden church is for the final time filled to the brim with a congregation, powerfully singing the holiday hymns. It’s a Christmas card Christmas and once again I get to celebrate it with my loved once and my friends in the village.
I am thinking, what if they can hear us? Grandfather Carl and grandmother Signe, all the other farmers who are the ancestors of this congregation. What if they could see us? Bertil, now 93, one of the children, still with us. Torbjörn, my sister and me, Margareta, Roland, Christina: the grand children. Trouble & Trouble, their cousins and second cousins: the great grand children. And baby Maia, only 3 months old, her first and last julotta, Carl and Signe’s great great grand child.
The mind boggles. Those perspectives.
I feel like I am in the middle of a time line. We have been building arches between now and then. Two new generations have been a part of the traditions our grandparents once created. My sons were 10 and 12 their first julotta and will not remember anything else than getting up way too early on Christmas morning, but still wanting to do it.
In 1945 no one new it would be that generation’s last julotta. Carl died summer after, too early, only 57. And the julotta died as well. For 53 years the Christmas mornings were dark and silence in my village. 16 years now, they have been again light, warm, filled with music, joy community and coffee. But this is the final one. We are finishing up. And we are doing it with respect and dignity.