A 200-year-old legend, with a crown of lit candles adorning her head, will again bring light to the Northland's cold and dark winter months.

On Saturday, Dec. 8, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Great Lakes Ballroom at the Holiday Inn, the Swedish Cultural Society will host its fourth annual Sankta Lucia Celebration.

Thirty years ago various churches in the community had their own Lucia celebrations. Now the event, held in the highest regard among many Swedish Americans, has been revived and combined into one big celebration. Approximately 300 tickets are sold each year.

"It's a very, very traditional thing," said Shirley Graham, president of the Swedish Cultural Society.

Although versions of the Lucia legend vary, one of the most familiar tells how Lucia, a young girl who lived in Sicily during the fourth century, was martyred for helping a group of Christians hiding from Roman persecution. One way the story is told is that Lucia bought food with her dowry money, then brought it to the catacombs where the Christians were hiding. To light the way and to free her hands, Lucia wore a crown of candles on her head. Lucia was later discovered, arrested and executed.

The Swedes adopted this Italian saint and made her their own when, according to legend, Lucia appeared on Lake Vanern in Sweden on Dec. 13, which was at one time the shortest day of the year.

The legend of Lucia has spread to many other countries throughout the centuries. In Sweden, a Lucia custom began in the home. A young woman in each family is selected to dress in a white robe, crimson sash and a crown of candles to represent Lucia.

She then awakens the family by singing the hymn "Sankta Lucia" and leaves hot coffee, freshly baked bread and saffron buns at each person's bedside.

To be chosen to represent Lucia is an honor, whether it's in Stockholm or Duluth.

Every year the Society's Swedish Cultural Board must choose who that young woman will be for Duluth's Lucia Celebration. This year, it's 13-year-old Heather Carlson. She has participated in the Lucia Celebration every year.

"We felt Heather has been so faithful and involved in the process for four years," Graham said.

Joining Lucia will be four starboys and eight maidens of light, Graham said.

Lucia and the maidens begin the procession in darkness and bring light into the room. The starboys act as escorts, and the maidens serve Lucia buns (lussekatter or saffron buns). Also, 350 pepparakas will be served. (See the recipe on Page B8.)

The Lucia Celebration also will include music by the Brass Quintet and plenty of Christmas decor.

The Lucia celebration is meant to keep spirits high during the cold and dark winter months.

Also, Graham said Christmas has always been the biggest celebration for Swedish immigrants. She said the Lucia Celebration is an extension of this favorite holiday.

"This is pre-Christmas looking forward to the Christmas celebration," Graham said.

Sandi Dahl is a news reporter for the Budgeteer News. To reach her, call

723-1207 or send e-mail to sandi.dahl@duluth.com.

Newsletter signup for email alerts