Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Traditional Holiday Celebrations in Telluride

The sun is spent, and now his flasks
 Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
 The world's whole sap is sunk;
 - John Donne, “A Nocturnal Upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day”

Italian Catholics and Scandinavian Lutherans alike celebrated Saint Lucy’s Day on December 13th.  It was one of the few Saints celebrated by the Protestants in town. Not unlike Christmas, this holiday has some pagan associations that were incorporated into Christian traditions. St. Lucy’s Day traditionally is held on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, and Saint Lucy is associated with light. Many of the Christian myths around St. Lucy involve her bringing light to a place of darkness, including one in which she ventures into the catacombs to bring relief to Christian refugees wearing a wreath covered in candles around her head. Additionally the Latin word lucis means ‘light’. In the high latitudes of Northern Europe, the vestiges of pagan traditions and dark winter months made St. Lucy a natural fit. 

These traditions traveled with immigrants from Italy and Scandinavia to Telluride. In Conversations at 9,000 Feet: A Collection of Oral Histories from Telluride, Colorado, Mary Baker recalls: “My mother always celebrated Santa Lucia, Saint Lucy was on the thirteenth of December. We put out cornmeal for her donkey in a little dish. In the morning it would be gone, and there’d be a big orange or apple or something. I believed in that for a long time, even after I knew there wasn’t any Santa Claus” (138). 
Christmas was widely celebrated in Telluride, but the Finnish community celebration stands out for its Old World taditionality. The entire Finnish community celebrated together at Finn Hall, now a private residence at 440 W. Pacific Ave. Parents brought all of their children’s presents and put them under the communal Christmas tree in the Hall, and children performed memorized passages of Finnish. Dinner consisted of lutefisk, (dried whitefish that has been soaked in lye to give it a gelatinous texture) and potatoes followed by coffee and potluck baked goods. In the evening, sleigh bells Santa Claus entered the hall through the door carrying bags of candy and fruit for the children.

 A Gathering at Finn Hall on W. Pacific Ave. on Sept. 4, 1905

For more information, consult Conversations at 9,000 Feet, which is a fantastic resource for Telluride oral history. You can also call the museum at (970) 728-3344 or email


  1. This is a gorgeous place, and I won't soon forget it. Attended events at venues Los Angeles sponsored by the company. The reception hour was held in one of the rooms next to the hall. I loved their buttery mashed sweet potato.