Monday, December 10, 2007

Festival of Light

Last night was a big event in the life of our church here as we celebrated the life of a young woman who lived in Italy in the 4th century and eventually, when Scandinavia was converted to Christianity, was adopted by Sweden as a patron saint.

St. Lucia, the story goes, was an early Christian who brought food to people hiding in the catacombs apparently by wearing a crown of candles on her head for a means to lighting her way through the catacombs. Centuries later, the story of St. Lucia was used to help convert pagans to Christianity in Scandinavia and the people, because either the date of her birth or the date of her death (can't remember now which it was) fell on December 13th, which was according to old calendars, the longest day of the year, equated St. Lucia with her crown of candles and bringing light as comparable to December 13th being the day after which all days got longer - more light - and so that is a very compact version of the story of St. Lucia. On December 13th though, the oldest girl in a Swedish home is supposed to rise in the middle of the night to prepare breakfast for the family and serve them in their beds. To light her way - and to symbolize the beginning of the days having more light each day after December 13th - she wears a crown of candles which are then lit to light the way as she serves Lucia rolls and coffee to her family.

And because our particular parish was founded in the late 1880's by Swedish immigrants to this area, it has become our church's tradition to honor our heritage -and St. Lucia - on the Sunday closest to December 13th with a special program of the "Festival of Light" and St. Lucia Day.

Here are some pictures of St. Lucia programs from the past. The top photo on the left are two sisters, Krista and Karen Eyerly, daughters of my neighbors 2 doors down the street (their mother is my best friend from the time we were about 2 years old). The top photo on the right
is Debra Young Moriarity with Pastor Ed Devore at our first St. Lucia Day observance back in December of 1981. (Deb is now my next door neighbor). The middle photo on the left is Denise Young Araway, younger sister of our "first" St. Lucia. Then on the right in the middle is my older daughter, Carrie, as St. Lucia in either 1982 or 1983. The bottom picture is of Ellen Pillot - cousin to the Eyerly sisters in the top left photo. I don't have any photos of Mandy from the year (1994) when she served as St. Lucia. She was supposed to serve in 1993 but that year, due to a really bad snow storm that knocked the power out all over the region for about 2 days, the festival and dinner that year had to be canceled so the next year, because Mandy had missed serving as St. Lucia the year before due to the cancellation, she got her turn. One thing all the girls who have served as St. Lucia have said about doing this - beside feeling it was a great honor to get to wear the crown of candles - is what a hassle it was too trying to get all the wax combed out of their hair then the next day! It really is a beautiful program, with the story of St. Lucia being re-read every year, a great pot-luck dinner always - as is the norm at our church anytime there is to be a church dinner - can't beat the food, for sure! Plus at this program, we always have a chance to sing Christmas Carols - anyone can request that we sing a favorite carol while we wait for the procession to begin and at the close of the service, we always have a rendition of the Swedish favorite Christmas song (for our church, anyway, it is a favorite) - "Lyssna, Lyssna" - (Listen, Listen, hear the angels song) and anyone who has ever been a member of any of the church choirs -if they are brave enough - can get up and we sing this carol then for the rest of the people gathered together there. It's one of my favorite times of the year because I no longer sing in the choir so don't get to participate anymore in the singing of this special song except at the end of the St. Lucia program and that song is one I really love - remember the harmony on it as well - so I very much enjoy that part of the program.

Here are two more recent photos of the St. Lucia Pageant at our church. In the top photo, the young lady on the far left is Anna Pillot, niece of Ellen Pillot who is in the bottom photo of the upper pic I posted. To her right, I don't recall that young woman's name but I believe she was an exchange student here that year. Center is Rebecca Baumgardner, and to the right of Becky is Alena Bumbarger, Valerie Amick and Leah Lawrence. Anna is the only one of the girls in the photo who has never served as St. Lucia - probably because she and her parents and younger brother live over in State College while her grandparents -my neighbors about 7 houses UP the street from me (Andrew "Bo" and Shirley Nelson Pillot) live here and still belong to our church. Alena was St. Lucia in 2005, Valerie in 2004 and Leah in 2006.
In the bottom photo here, there is Marge Baumgardner (grandmother of Becky, the St. Lucia in the photo above this) helping the kids to get ready for the procession. In front of her is Kylie Moriarity (my next-door neighbor's younger daughter and sister of Alena Bumbarger -both the daughters of the very first St. Lucia -Debra Young Moriarity). The "star boy" in the photo is Matt Adams and the two girls to the right are my stepgranddaughter, Katie Wagner and then Katie Hulett, daughter of Karen Eyerly Hulett, who was St. Lucia in the very top left photo in this post and she is the granddaughter of my good friend (and neighbor, still) Kate Nelson Eyerly.

Aren't we all just pretty much one big happy family though?

And maybe, if all goes well - and I'm still around and kicking (and blogging) in about 12-13 years, perhaps my little Princess Maya will also be serving as St. Lucia! It would be especially fitting since Maya is named for her great-great-great-grandmother - Maja Lisa Till Eld - who came to this country in 1881, with her five young children in tow, to reunite with my great-grandfather (Carl Eld-Andersson) who had immigrated here in 1880. Hopefully, I'll make it that many years to be able to see that happen. Maybe by then I can teach Maya the words to my favorite Swedish Christmas carol, "Lyssna, Lyssna" by then too.


dr sardonicus said...

Interesting story about St. Lucia. That's just about everybody in your town in those pictures, right?

Theresa said...

Loved the pictures to go along with the story. My friend attends an Scandinavia church, where they have the same church brunch. The food is always so good, the church lady's always cook up Sweedish delights. They too tell the story and have lots of skits to remind us of the history. Always a fun morning!