Many immigrant and cultural communities hold holiday celebrations and special events, something done from the time of Minnesota's first immigrants through today. Special occasions provide an opportunity for these groups to honor their heritage and highlight their traditions of food, clothing, music, dancing, and more. These events celebrate cultural pride and uniqueness within a wider community. They also help educate those who do not share that heritage.
Minnesota's earliest immigrants commemorated special holidays that were unique to their culture and homelands. Norwegians celebrated Norwegian Independence Day (Syttende Mai), while the Irish marched in St. Patrick's Day parades, Mexican people celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Swedish people decorated maypoles for Midsommar. They also added special customs to more widely held holidays, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. Many of these traditions are still observed on holidays today
In 1900, John Klukken emigrated from Norway to Minnesota when he was thirteen years old. In this interview, he discussed how they celebrated Christmas in Norway—especially the traditional food—and he talked about how some of those traditions were continued in his new community here.
Q: Did you have a traditional Norwegian Christmas as you lived over here, when you moved over?
A: Well, they did more to begin with. Although the first time they had Christmas on our place, we didn’t know about everything, and, of course, we didn’t have the pine trees to go and cut. We used to do that in Norway. Went and cut it outside the house someplace. But here, finally, he went and got another tree that looked kind of nice, little tree, but pretty nice, and he brought that home and covered that with ornaments, and it made out all right for the first Christmas here.
Interview with John Klukken, 1976
Felicitas Herrera was deeply involved with making sure her community continued the religious celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. She spoke about the special fiesta day held annually in St. Paul, and how she would bring a picture of the Virgin from household to household with the Guadelupanas.
We would go in a procession and sing and pray and go to one home one night and then to another the following night and so on. It was kind of similar to a "Posada." We would ask the people if they would give us permission to come into their homes and say the rosary. At the end of each Our Father and ten Hail Mary's, we would sing a hymn and do this continuously until the rosary was over. I think these hymns are beautiful so we still continue to have the same practice as before.
Interview with Felicitas Herrera, 1975
As immigrant groups became more settled within Minnesota and American culture, holidays began to be more about honoring traditions and heritage instead of something people personally celebrated back home. Schools and churches with ethnic heritage of their own often promoted these heritage celebrations within their communities, even after they became fully Americanized.
- Young people dressed for Lucia, American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- People dancing around a maypole, American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Female students dressed for Bethel's Festival of Christmas in St. Lucia costumes, St. Pa...
- Fiddlers on Svenskarnas Dag stage, Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Later immigrant groups, who may not have had a church or center devoted specifically to them, celebrated traditional religious and spiritual holidays personally and privately in their own homes. Others, like the Hmong, formed community centers to help them organize and celebrate community-wide holidays.
Second-generation Indian American Simi Ahuja spoke about the holidays she celebrated with her family. Her mother led them in prayers, songs, and spiritual activities on special holidays and events, like birthdays.
Interview with Simi Ahuja, 1998
Recent immigrant and refugee groups follow in the footsteps of Minnesota's earliest immigrants in celebrating certain holidays special to their culture. Maryan Del explained the story behind Somali Independence Day, which is still celebrated by that community annually.
Somali Independence Day is going to be Sunday, June 27 from one p.m. to, I believe, it’s seven o’clock. The theme is going to be family affair events. We’re going to have it in the park back here. There will be different organizations will be here, different booths. The celebration is when we got independence from Italy. Italy used to control Somalia. That’s when we got our independence, that’s the reason we’re celebrating. Everybody is invited to come. There will be great speakers.
Interview with Maryan Del, 2004
Wangyal Ritzekura, originally from Tibet, spoke about Tibetan holidays and how important they are to Tibetan people, even while living in Minnesota. His interviewer asked him if he thought the significance of March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day, and July 6th, His Holiness' birthday, had changed for Tibetans in the U.S. Ritzekura emphatically answered, "No. It hasn't changed."
It hasn’t changed. The importance and the scale on which these occasions are celebrated or observed has actually become much bigger than before...
Interview with Wangyal Ritzekura, 2005
To learn about the role that ethnic community groups have held in preserving immigrant culture, use the page links below. To learn more about this exhibit, use those page links instead.