Western Illinois Town Caters Christmas Towards Those With Swedish Heritage

(BISHOP HILL, IL) — A Swedish Christmas tradition lives on in one historic western Illinois town. The annual Christmas morning service known as Julotta has been held at the Colony Church in Bishop Hill since 1970 as a way to celebrate the area’s Swedish heritage. The church, built in 1848, was the same place where settlers in the Bishop Hill Colony would have practiced their faith. Martha Downey, site superintendent of the Bishop Hill State Historic Site, says the early morning service, which begins at 6 a.m., puts you in their shoes, right down to the lack of heat in the sanctuary. “So as people arrive on Christmas morning, it’s how the colonists would’ve arrived, in the chill of the day, in the dark, going into the candlelit sanctuary, hearing scripture, hearing a sermon,” Downey said. Some of the scripture and the hymns will be done in Swedish. This year, the nondenominational service will be led by Rev. Dan Wright, who served at the Bishop Hill Methodist Church from 1981 to 1986. Visitors are encouraged to dress warm because the church isn’t heated, though Downey expects milder temperatures may attract more first-time visitors.