- Kirsten Larson
- Anders Larson
- Greta Larson
- Lars Larson
- Peter Larson
- Lisbeth Larson
- Anna Larson
- Miss Winston
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Pestering
For the first year Kirsten and her family lived on uncle Olav's farm the autumn weather lasted into December. The steam is frozen and they need to melt ice for water, but there was little snow. But Kirsten's father often points to the geese flying south, insisting that the winter would be very colder, colder than it had been in Sweden. But Kirsten thinks that the snow on the pine looks like sugar.One day Kirsten comes into the cabin after school, smelling cinnamon. Her mother tells her that she is making Christmas bread and Kirsten should come help her. Kirsten washes her hands and ties an apron over her school dress. Her mother reminds her to cover her hands with flour to keep the dough from sticking to her hands. Kirsten questions if Christmas in America will be like Christmas in Sweden. Mama says that she doesn't know but some things will surely be different because they do not have money for treats. But they will make the best out of it. When Mama notices that Kirsten is disappointed she gives her a bit of dough to make some bread of her doll, Little Sari. Kirsten glances at Little Sari and sadly thinks about how much she misses her real doll she had to leave behind last summer.
When Kirsten says that she misses Sari, her mother reminds Kirsten that work came before play. She does assure Kirsten that she will have Sari again soon, as Mr. Berkhoff had sent word that their trunks had shipped to his store in Maryville. The trip to Maryville was 10 miles away and would take the whole day to go there and back, so Papa would pick them up once he was done with the chores they had to get done before the snow fell. Kirsten wants to ask Papa to go soon, but Mama says it would only make him cross, and asks Kirsten to be patient for a little while longer. Kirsten suggests that she and Mama could pick up the trunks themselves. Mama, amused by Kirsten's enthusiasm, reminds Kirsten she still has to go to school, and the trunks would be too heavy for the two of them to lift. She tells Kirsten their family can get by with what they have until Papa is ready to pick up the trunks.
Kirsten starts to reminisce out loud about the items in the trunk, such as the shawl Mormer, Kirsten's grandmother, had made for Mama, or their candle sticks. Kirsten adds that their family would need the heavy quilt and warm clothing for the winter, Papa would need his hand tools, and Kirsten needs Sari. Kirsten amends that she only wanted Sari, but she asks Mama if she ever missed her items, to which Mama says people are more important then items. Kirsten says that things helped her remember people too; when she wore the seater from Mormor, she could picture her knitting, and having the Christmas rafters would make it feel like Mormor was with them. Mama pauses, calling Kirsten wise.
Mama admits she often thought of the day they finished packing the painted trunk to America. It was spring, and Mormor and their friend Mrs. Hanson came early in the morning and stayed all day to help them pack. Mrs. Hanson had brought dried lavender in between the linen, everyone laughed when Peter tried to pack his sled, and they all cried when they said goodbye, knowing they'd never see each other again. Kirsten was surprised to see Mama with tears in her eyes, unaware that she got homesick as well. Mama quickly hides her tears from Kirsten, sending her out to give Papa some hot coffee.
At the barn, Papa happily accepts the coffee and takes a small break. Kirsten asks about the trunks and when would Papa be able to pick up the trunks, saying she and Mama both needed items from it. Papa tells Kirsten he needed to make sure everything got done before the heavy snow fell or else their family won't survive the winter, and asks Kirsten not to pester him again. He promises to go for the trunks as soon as he has time, but he and Uncle Olav stayed plenty busy over the next few days. Kirsten knew once the snow fell, it would block the road into Maryville and they wouldn't be able to get their trunks until the snow melted in the spring.
The more Kirsten thought about the trunks, the more reasons she found for wanting them. Lars would want his skates, Peter his clay whistle, and unpacking the trunk would be like a visit home to Sweden for Mama. Every night during prayers, Kirsten prays for Papa to get the trunks soon.
Chapter Two: A Crown for a Queen
It was too cold for Kirsten and her cousins to play in their doll fort, so they began playing with their dolls in the barn. Kirsten attempts to make a dress for her doll with a red yarn and a handkerchief, and remarks that it looked like Saint Lucia. To Kirsten's shock, neither of her cousins recognize the name and think Kirsten is talking about a friend back in Sweden. Kirsten explains it is a holiday in Sweden, and the best part of Christmas. Lisbeth explains she was only a baby when she left Sweden, and their family had only ever celebrated Christmas day when in America. Kirsten's spirits fell; how could Christmas be just like it was in Sweden without Saint Lucia's Day? She knew Mama would be disappointed; it is her favorite holiday.
Anna asks about the holiday, and Kirsten explains how Saint Lucia's Day kicked off the Christmas season. On the darkest day of the year, the eldest girl in the family dressed up in a white dress, a red sash, wore an evergreen crown with candles in it, and served coffee and Lucia buns to the whole family. Anna finds the holiday beautiful, and wishes they celebrated Saint Lucia's Day. This gives Kirsten the idea that they should surprise their family with their own Saint Lucia's Day celebration. It wouldn't be hard: Mama always had coffee and their Christmas bread could replace the Lucia buns. They could make their own crown from grapevine and winter leaves.
Anna and Kirsten get more excited the more they plan, but Lisbeth asks what they would do about the dress. Kirsten says she had a white nightdress that her family had used for Saint Lucia's Day last year they could use, it was in their trunk. The girls stare at each other in silence before sighing, realizing Kirsten's trunks weren't here. Saint Lucia's Day was 5 days away, and Lisbeth felt it wasn't worth planning if Kirsten's Papa wouldn't bring the trunks over before then. Anna adds that they wouldn't have been able to get the candles they needed without their mother noticing anyhow.
Kirsten was more determined then ever to go through with her Saint Lucia celebration. She suggests Miss Winston, who is still staying with Anna and Lisbeth's family for the winter, could help them keep their idea a secret. Miss Winston had mentioned she missed the Christmas parties she used to go to in the East. Lisbeth is still concerned about the dress, but Kirsten insists that Papa practically promised he'd get the trunks soon. They could get all the things they need and practice so once Papa did get the trunks, they'd be ready. Lisbeth accepts this, and the three start planning how they could keep their preparations a secret. Lisbeth suddenly hushes the girls, and Kirsten hears her Papa's voice as he brought in the animals. Lisbeth urges Kirsten to ask him about the trunks again. Kirsten knows that Papa hates to be pestered, but she decides to give it one more try.
As Papa milked the cow, Kirsten asks about the trunks again. Papa asks what was so important about the trunks, and Kirsten tries to make the case that Mama would want her candlesticks for Christmas. Papa says they all want things they can't have, and he had heard enough about the trunks. Kirsten pleads, but Papa scowls not to ask again or else he'd get angry. Kirsten walked slowly to Blackie, Uncle Olav's horse, and murmurs how everything depended on that trunk. Blackie pushed his nose again Kirsten's hand, as if he sensed that Kirsten needed comfort.
The next day, the girls gather the leaves and vines for the crown on their way home from school. Miss Winston agrees to help the girls, saying that she likes surprises too. Working on Miss Winston's bed, the three make Kirsten's crown, decided how the tray would be laid out, and practice reciting the words. Lisbeth tells Kirsten even if the trunks didn't come in time, they could save their plan for next year. Kirsten couldn't help but worry now that she had gotten everyone's hopes up, especially her own. She was afraid to ask Papa about the trunks again, so she just had to wait and see what happened.
Chapter Three: To Town at Last
The following Tuesday, Kirsten wakes up to the sound of her parents talking. Papa had managed to get the last of the chores done just in time, and he will able to go into town today to get the trunks. Mama says as long as he felt it was safe to go he should, or else they wouldn't have the trunks until spring. Kirsten's heart pounds, realizing they will get the trunks in time for Saint Lucia's Day tomorrow.
Kirsten goes down and asks Mama to let her go get the trunks with Papa, that it wouldn't hurt for her to miss a day of school. Papa warns Kirsten there won't be much room for her in the sleigh and it will be a cold trip, but Kirsten isn't deterred. Kirsten says she won't take up much space, and she could keep him company. Kirsten os worried that Papa will get upset at her trying to change his mind, but instead Papa laughs and said Kirsten has the same strong will as her Mama. Both parents agree to let Kirsten travel with Papa, and the two prepare for their journey into town. Mama asks the two to give Mr. Berkhoff some of their Christmas bread, as they may not see him until spring. Mama waves goodbye as the two take off, Blackie pulling the sleigh.
The snow is falling, the wind was against their backs, and the two sing Christmas carols on the trip there. Kirsten is happy that she will be able to pull off her Saint Lucia surprise after all. The snow is falling harder when they reach the store in Maryville. Inside, Mr. Berkhoff greets the two, giving Kirsten some candy from one of his jars. Kirsten hands the bread to him, and Mr. Berkhoff is surprised at Kirsten's English, saying the last time he saw her she only spoke Swedish. Kirsten blushes, explaining that she is learning it at school, and Berkhoff compliments her English.
Mr. Berkhoff brings the two to the back storage, where their trunks were waiting by the back door. Kirsten goes up to the painted trunk, thinking how the trunk felt like an old friend she hand't seen in a long time. Kirsten asks if she could take Sari out for the ride back home, but Papa says they'll open the trunks at home, as the snow is falling harder and they needed to head back right away. While loading the sleigh, Mr. Berkhoff squints at the weather and suggests the two stay in town until the snowing stopped, but Papa declines the offer. Mr. Berkhoff warns the two not to get lost, and he wishes the two a Merry Christmas as they ride off.
Chapter Four: Braving the Blizzard
The snow seemed to fall harder wit every minute as they left Maryville. Papa urges Blackie to go faster, but the extra weight added by the trunks meant the sleight moved slower then before. Papa says the weather must of changed while they were in the store. The snow filled up their previous tracks, and now the wind was blowing towards them. Papa tells Kirsten to pull the blanket over her head, and Kirsten does so while curling up by his side. The next time she peeked out from the blanket, she could only see white. Unable to see the road, Papa was using the fenceposts as their guide.
Kirsten asks if they should go back to Maryville, but Papa says they've gone too far, and there was a better chance of Blackie recognizing the way back to the farm. Papa says they would be alright if they kept going west, but Kirsten could see him frown towards to the know. Kirsten was worried, having heard stories about settlers getting lost and dying in blizzards even when walking from their barn to their house. A snowstorm on the prairie could be as dangerous as a storm at sea. Blackie was beginning to slow down, and Papa tries to find ways to lighten their load. Kirsten asks if they would have to leave their trunks behind in the snow, but he assures her that wouldn't happen.
When they ran out of fenceposts to follow, they used the shadow that came from the edge of the forest. Black moved slower and slower, until he stopped entirely, even with Papa's whipping. Papa explains that Blackie was afraid because he lost his footing, and he needed to walk with the horse to guide him along. Papa hands the reigns to Kirsten and wraps the blanket tightly around her before going out into the snowdrift besides the horse. Papa soothes the horse, and the two move slowly for a while, until Papa suddenly fell and cried in pain. Kirsten, having never heard Papa cry in pain, left the sleigh to check on him. Papa had twisted his knee and despite his efforts, wasn't able to put his weight on it. Kirsten asks how she could help, but Papa says there was nothing she could do and they'd just have to depend on Blackie to move. Papa crawls back to the sleigh and try to urge Blackie on, but the horse refused to move.
Kirsten grabbed her Papa's hand, insisting she could lead Blackie while Papa stayed in the sleigh. Papa asks if she was able to walk through the snow, and Kirsten says she would try. Papa bundled up Kirsten, giving her his gloves, saying she was a good girl with a lot of heart. He had told Mama she had heart when she agreed to go to America with him. He had told Mama she had heart when she was seasick on the ship, but didn't lose hope. Kirsten wanted to be as brave as her Mama. She goes to Blackie and is surprised the horse trusted her enough to keep on moving. Kirsten struggled agains the snow, trying to encourage herself to keep moving by reminding herself to have heart, imagining her family waiting for her at home, and reciting the numbers she had learnt from school.
Kirsten's thoughts were interrupted when she bumped into something and realized they were no longer in the fields near the woods, but in the valley by the stream. Papa thinks the horse had gotten lost, but Kirsten looked around and realized she recognized the area. She had been to these cliffs before with Singing Bird, recognizing the forked birch tree they passed to reach the cave they sometimes played in. Kirsten tells Papa she knows where they are, and that there is a cave nearby they can take shelter at. Papa is surprised and asks Kirsten to take care of Blackie. As Papa dragged himself to the cave, Kirsten took the harness off of Blackie and had the horse take shelter amongst the trees. Kirsten tells Blackie he has a lot of heart before going up the path with Papa.
Singing Bird had told Kirsten that hunters used this cave while hunting, so the cave was dry and had a supply of dry sticks and grass in the back. Papa started the fire and asks Kirsten how she found this cave. Kirsten kept Singing Bird a secret, and simply says she came across the cave while exploring by the stream. Papa sternly asks if she had permission to go out that far, but Kirsten covers her tracks by saying she hadn't realized she wandered out that far. Papa smiles, saying he was happy Kirsten was such a little explorer.
Knowing that Kirsten can find her way back home from there, he tells Kirsten to rest until the storm had passed. Kirsten, only now realizing how hungry she is, eats the candy Mr. Berkhoff had given her earlier, and falls asleep with the taste of cinnamon and sugar on her tongue.
Chapter Five: Silent Night, Lucia Light
When Kirsten wakes up, the storm has passed and Papa was putting out the fire. They could go home now, but Kirsten would still have to lead Blackie as Papa still couldn't stand on his leg. As Kirsten hitches Blackie back onto the sleigh, she notes it must be very late if the sky was dark but the moon was down. Kirsten manages to lead the sleigh back home, where she sees that all the candles were still lit.
Papa announces their return, and everyone rushes out to meet them, Mama leading the way. Peter explains that everyone had stayed up to keep an eye out for the two of them, even Ms. Winston, and Kirsten sees that everyone was in their nightclothes. Kirsten was sat down by the fireplace with a bowl of soup, and Mama hugs her as she says she should have never let Kirsten go with Papa. He interjects, saying without Kirsten he wouldn't have found the cave or the way back home, and that she was a brave, strong girl. Mama says she could believe Kirsten was as brave as her Papa. Anna and Lisbeth sit by Kirsten as she eats, saying how frightened they were, how Uncle Olav wanted to search for them but Aunt Inger said it was impossible to do by foot. They ask Kirsten if she was scared, and Kirsten says she was, but then she was too busy to be scared.
Kirsten changes the subject to the trunks and squeezes Anna's hand under the table. Anna whispers if she still wanted to go through with her plan and Kirsten says it was the perfect time. It was Saint Lucia's Day, and it was the perfect time of day to do it. Lisbeth isn't sure how they would surprise everyone when they were already awake, but Kirsten whispers that if they got the crown and tray prepared, she could sneak the costume from the trunk. Once they're ready, they'll ask Miss Winston to tell everyone to close their eyes. The cousins agree to the plan, and the run off to prepare.
Uncle Olav and Lars come back inside with the trunks and upon opening it, the smell of dried lavender drifted through. Kirsten rushed to Mama's side as she unpacked the trunk and handed Sari to Kirsten. Mama tells Kirsten that she had missed her and Papa last night, even more then Kirsten had missed Sari, but now everyone was back together again, Sari included. Mama takes out Peter's clay whistle, but Peter had fallen asleep by Papa. Mama says they should probably go to sleep as it had been a long night, but Kirsten tells her they should at least unpack the sweaters and pillowcases. Mama doesn't need much convincing, and Kirsten is able to sneak the dress and sash away, which she passes to Anna to hide in her sweater.
The girls meet in the far end of the kitchen, and Kirsten changes into the costume. Once the candles in the crown were lit, Anna gasps in awe, saying that Kirsten looked like an angel. Miss Winston hurried in, saying that everyone had closed their eyes and she turned down the lights. Kirsten slowly walked into the room and announces "Saint Lucia invites you to breakfast!" The room was still for a moment before the commotion erupted. Peter woke up, and everyone was delighted by the surprise.
As Kirsten handed out the coffee, Lisbeth asks if this was like Christmas in Sweden. Kirsten thought about the home she loved and left behind in Sweden, then smiled at the cousins she liked so well. Seeing how brightly lit her house was when she and Papa returned had made her incredibly happy. She tells Lisbeth it was almost the same, but this year was the best Christmas of all.
Looking Back: Christmas in 1854
Discusses Swedish Christmas traditions in pioneer America. Topics covered:
- Reasons for immigrants and pioneers to celebrate Christmas
- Mixture of immigrant and American Christmas traditions between immigrants and American families
- Curtailed celebrations of the holidays due to farm work on the frontier
- Special foods and recipes prepared and shared among immigrants and pioneers during the holidays
- Christmas decorations among immigrants as a way to remember their homes from the old country
- The use of wheat to decorate barns and attract birds during Christmas, a Swedish tradition that foretold a good harvest for the next year
- The Swedish tradition of lighting candles in every window for Jultomten, a Christmas elf
- Practical gifts pioneer and immigrant children might have received, such as clothing
- Jokes, poems, and riddles written on the gifts by Jultomten for children to guess
- Religious services on Christmas Day
Items associated with Kirsten's Surprise
- ↑ pg 16, "When is Saint Lucia's Day?" Anna asked. "It's December thirteenth," Kirsten said. Quickly she counted on her fingers. "That's five whole days from now."