Some Swedes, here in Lindsborg and in the old country, have known about ljuskrona forever; others, never. Yet, the tradition of making and remaking this unique candelabra lives on, even expanding.
Ljuskrona, a particular kind of candleholder used at Christmas in Sweden, shows off its shape when a base and the arms are wrapped and decorated with cut paper. Some use newspaper, others tissue paper, still others are using jewelers’ paper. The paper is cut into strips, diced on the folded edge, and turned inside out to make a flared look. The paper is wound continuously around the base and the arms until the frame is covered. Some wrap the base in strips of cloth, such as a sheet torn into long slivers.
Being wrapped in paper is the ljuskrona’s distinguishing feature from other candleholders. Generally, the paper decoration completely covers the framework, creating a delicate, fragile look. Candleholders are placed at the tips of the arms, and candles are burned cautiously for a short time. The finished product is placed on a flat surface or hung from the ceiling.
Usually, ljuskrona are made by individual families, using available materials for the frame, such as broom handles and clothesline wire. The framework gives the ljuskrona its sturdy shape and holds the paper decoration and candles. Typically, a family’s style of ljuskrona and the pattern of paper cutting are handed down from generation to generation. A note taped to the bottom of the ljuskrona may indicate the date it was designed and built and who wrapped it.
Practicality and limited resources determine a ljuskrona’s shape and its elaborateness. Scrap and junk materials often inform a ljuskrona’s basic outcome, especially those brought from the old country. Often bottle caps or jar lids were shaped to become candleholders at the tips of the arms. Ljuskronas may have been built to collapse easily into a shape that fits into the bottom of a trunk, ready to be rewrapped upon arrival in the new country.
Mark and Mardel Esping began researching ljuskrona years ago to learn more about the candleholders and to increase interest in finding old ones and building new ones. They have found that often, a family develops its own recipe, such as each arm of the ljuskrona used to represent a family member. Space for new arms to be added and subtracted for a death, a birth, or a marriage in the family guides the overall design. Most ljuskronas are wrapped in white paper, but a family may choose to add color to their scheme. Particular styles of cutting the paper unique to the family alter the look also.
The Espings formed Folklife Institute in 1986 to formalize their search. No matter whom they ask or where they go, they uncover Swedes who know about ljuskrona and those who don’t. The oldest ljuskrona they’ve uncovered was made in the 1700s in Sweden, contrasted with new ones made in conjunction with 2015’s Hyllningsfest. (Check out their website www.folklifeinstitute.com)
Salemsborg Lutheran Church’s congregation has enjoyed a ljuskrona that made its first appearance in their dugout church in 1869. Several families in the area—those who know the ljuskrona tradition—cautiously care for their ljuskrona year round, uncovering it and bringing it into the light from December 13 to January 13. Those who didn’t know the ritual of ljuskrona can add it to their holiday celebrations or show appreciation to those whose Christmas customs include wrapping a displaying a ljuskrona tree.