"I've had little old Swedish ladies literally cry when they come into my shop," said Sue Kopperman.
But for Washington Swedes, the key December import isn't foodstuffs, it's girl singers.
Every year, Kerstin Hendrickson rounds up Swedish au pairs in the region and trains 30 or 40 of them as a roving troupe of white-robed St. Lucia singers. The young women visit churches, schools and the Swedish Embassy to perform the medieval procession commemorating the burning of the future saint by ancient Romans. One of the girls, representing Lucia, wears a crown of candles.
"We do eight or 10 Lucias every year," said the Swedish-born Hendrickson, who lives in Beltsville and works as a nurse in Annapolis, Md. They've already performed this year for the Swedish ambassador and a Swedish Christmas bazaar. "I don't know who enjoys it more — the older people or the girls who are homesick. They are thrilled to learn there is such a big Lucia in Washington."
But the expats are still far from their lands of origin. Jonsson reflected on the one custom he and his fellow Icelanders have not been able to import. At home, families shake the winter skies with fireworks on New Year's Eve. In Bethesda, he doesn't dare.
"You do not mess with the Montgomery County police," he said, "even with diplomatic immunity."