Hugs to your heritage with Scandinavian Hearts
All for the love of family
For many of us, there is a specific moment in our lives where we find connection to our family’s heritage. The kitchen is a familiar place to learn about traditions, or around the holiday table. But what if you don’t cook and when these once-a-year celebrations arrive you’ve got other things on your mind?
We live in a busy world and finding time for a long-winded history lesson or baking tutorial can be hard. Author and small business owner Wendy Jangaard Jensen wants to make it easier to engage with your personal heritage and start those conversations with loved ones about connection and appreciation of these traditions, any time of the year. What felt authentic to her was to find an inexpensive and accessible way to commemorate and talk about Scandinavian culture in her day-to-day life.
Growing up Nordic
Wendy grew up surrounded by her Nordic heritage. Her grandfather was Norwegian, and her grandmother was Swedish. Their home in Ballard was decorated with imported housewares and cultural motifs. In college, she had the opportunity to participate in an international exchange program, which enabled her to work and live in Denmark after graduation.
Copenhagen inspired a love of travel for Wendy and led her to work in the industry. After living in London, working for Expedia, getting married, and having kids, Wendy eventually found she had less flexibility for travel. Leaving her hometown of Gig Harbor, she now lives in Ballard with her husband, son, and daughter.
These days, Wendy works as a consultant for small businesses and in doing so, discovered a desire to start one of her own. Thinking back to her time in Denmark, Wendy found meaningful connection in the small things.
The heart as a symbol
“It was so special to see hearts in the patterns of sweaters and engraved into little spoons. It’s a subtle design element you can find all over [the country].” Hearts, like ones she’d seen in her grandmother’s rosemaling or on an expensive woven table cloth. Wendy’s connection to recognizing these hearts across Scandinavian design inspired her business, Scandinavian Hearts. The little moments built up into a brand she can run with her family, with a goal to help others find similar connections.
Scandinavian Hearts began in 2020 with stickers. Wendy designed a series of heart stickers, affordable and accessible, that people could put on their water bottles, computers, or even on their windows to signify their Scandinavian heritage. Stickers turned into ornaments—laser cut wooden hearts—and now Wendy’s website also offers earrings, apparel, cards, and more, all embodying her favorite symbol, the heart.
“Every time I see a heart, I think about my home and my heritage and my family,” Wendy said. A symbol can spark a memory. Something as simple as a sticker can begin a conversation, without any special skills or resources. Living in Ballard, Wendy’s family knows the significance of big events like Syttende Mai, but Wendy wants the hearts to go beyond holidays and help integrate heritage into the everyday.
A new book
Following sales with great feedback at the National Nordic Museum’s Julefest, she realized that although people loved her products, she wanted an opportunity to deepen the message of her brand and help pass down this message to future generations. This year, Wendy began writing a children’s book, Anna and the Scandinavian Hearts. The book is inspired by her own experiences with her heritage. Wendy described the main characters as, “Kind of like me and my daughter,” and the home inside the pages, like her grandparents’ home.
Wendy commissioned a local Washington illustrator, Katherine Castano, and they worked together to bring Anna and the Scandinavian Hearts to life. The book was published on Oct. 18, 2022, and is an Amazon bestseller, placing no less than No. 1 on the new release charts.
Anna and the Scandinavian Hearts is the first in a series, with the next book coming out in 2023. It follows a young Anna who learns about symbols in school and tries to figure out what symbol speaks most to her. Wendy wants grandparents and parents like her to use the book as a way to talk about where symbols come from and what they can represent. Reaching beyond Scandinavia, the book can inspire those with other ethnic heritages to reconnect in small ways.
All in the family
Wendy’s work, family, and culture are interconnected in a way that she hopes will inspire her two children. Business and home reflect each other and she can be a role model in her home and also in the community. Wendy’s husband and kids help her with Scandinavian Hearts, from creating new designs to being at events and shows.
The inspiration flows both ways. “All my inspiration comes from my family,” Wendy said, “…[my] daughter recognizes symbols out in the world because it’s now part of our daily lives.”
Scandinavian Hearts has grown, and Wendy has plans to scale up her brand. The book is a welcome addition and has already created a larger connection piece that Wendy can share. She hopes to continue this with more community engagement. Being a part of the Scandinavian community is a large part of her life, and she’s found that people are excited and eager to share their own stories.
Resiliency and renewal
Wendy’s father is a member of the Normanna Male Chorus, a group of singers out of Tacoma, Wash. But as in many Scandinavian groups and community organizations, the members are aging. Wendy has heard stories of people finding it hard to share their heritage with the younger generations.
“I don’t want any important parts of our Scandinavian community to be lost over time.” she said.
Wendy touches on a larger issue in the Scandinavian-American areas of the United States. The question of how we carry on our heritage doesn’t have to be the end of cultural tradition.
The simple answer is: the traditions will change. It’s up to each person to find their own moment of connection and a way of engaging with their culture that feels authentic to them. To Wendy, the Scandinavian community is resilient, and she plans to continue helping people find these meaningful connections by starting the conversation.
You can find Scandinavian Hearts products locally in Washington state at the National Nordic Museum and Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle and Nordiska in Poulsbo. They are available to be shipped on Wendy’s website at scandinavianhearts.com.
All photos courtesy of Wendy Jangaard Jensen
This article originally appeared in the December 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.