Sankta Lucia brings light to darkness

Members of the Swedish Cultural Society of Duluth and their teens and children got together to practice for a Lucia Day pageant -- the traditional Swedish celebration of light.

Sankta Lucia
In this 1951 photo Ester Bjorn adjusts a wreath on the head of Joan Slinger, who was the Sankta Lucia that year. The Swedish Cultural Society is searching for photos of all the women who have served as Sankta Lucias over the years. (Photo courtesy of the Duluth Swedish Cultural Society)

Members of the Swedish Cultural Society of Duluth and their teens and children got together to practice for a Lucia Day pageant -- the traditional Swedish celebration of light.

According to the tradition, both boys and girls dress in white gowns. Girls are known as "maids of light" while boys are known as "star boys." Traditionally, on the winter solstice, the children proceed down the aisle of a church carrying lit candles while singing, but now they often carry battery-powered lights. One teen girl is chosen to be Lucia. She wears a wreath of candles on her head. Those candles too are now battery powered.

According to the government of Sweden's website, Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. Lucia Night was the longest of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak.

Saturday, Nov. 23, the group got together at the condominium home of Leslie Peterson, a member of the society. Peterson says she is 100-percent Swedish.

"Daddy was from the southern part of Sweden and Mother was from the northern, so we've got that covered," she told the Budgeteer while teenage girls, many of them a mix of several heritages, tried on white gowns, making sure they fit for the big day. The women who were gathered in the living room said that in Swedish homes the eldest daughter gets up at dawn and serves her parents buns and coffee.


Linnea Hinkel, a sophomore at Harbor City School, and Sammy Hanson, a sophomore at East High School, spoke to the Budgeteer about celebrating Sankta Lucia. "I've already had fun doing it," said Hanson, who has worn the white gown in previous years. "It's fun to get in the Christmas spirit."

"It's nice to feel closer to our heritage," said Hinkel. "It's really a big honor."

Loni Burud was also at Peterson's place helping her teenage daughter Lindsay Burud make sure her white gown fit. Burud said that she did not have any Swedish heritage, but that her mother-in-law Barbara Burud had 100-percent Swedish heritage. Loni said she has her children participate in the event as a way to honor her mother-in-law and her children. "I think it's important to remember our heritage. You don't see that anymore."

Nancy Lahti was also in Peterson's living room helping the teen girls choose their gowns. She said that half of her heritage is Swedish. The Swedish Lutheran churches used to organize in the event, Lahti said, but after there hadn't been a Lucia Day event in several years, the Swedish Cultural Society started holding the event in the Holiday Inn in the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile, down the hall from Peterson's unit in the community room, younger children were practicing songs in Swedish.

The groups will get together to practice at Lester Park United Methodist Church on Saturday, Nov. 30, and then the actual event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 14. at 9 a.m. and will include a "substantial brunch" of traditional Swedish food. Svenska Sångarna (Swedish Singers) and Jultomtes (Christmas elves) will bring ornaments for young children.

Seating begins at 8:30 a.m. Parking at the Holiday Inn ramp is free.

Call Nancy at 727-4416 for tickets: $17 for adults; $10 for children 5-12; free for under 5 years.


Note that tickets sell out, so get them as soon as possible.

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