Monday, December 15, 2008

St. Lucia - The Festival of Light

St. Lucia Day! This is a traditional program at our church -held on the Sunday evening closest to December 13th, which is St. Lucia Day. It's a celebration that I look forward to every bit as much as I look forward each year to the celebration of Christmas in our church.

Tradition in Sweden is that early in the morning on December 13th, the oldest girl in the family rises, fixes special rolls (St. Lucia buns) and coffee, then, wearing a white gown and a wreath of lit candles on her head, she awakens her family as she brings them these refreshments. This is all done to give homage to St. Lucia, a patron saint of Sweden since back in the earliest times of Christianity's origin in Sweden.

Although our church has many different ethnic groups in our membership now, it was formed in the mid-to-late 1880s by Swedish immigrants to this country and our first church was in the ghost town of Peale, PA. That church burned to the ground in 1888 or 1889 and eventually was replaced by two Lutheran churches in the village of Grassflat. There was the Nebo Lutheran Church located atop Grassflat Hill and at the foot of the hill, at the main intersection in town, was Emmanuel Lutheran -also referred to as the West Clymer church. My family's roots go back to the Church in Peale and then, to the Emmanuel Lutheran Church. However, in 1953, it was decided that the two churches here should consolidate -forming First Lutheran Church of Grassflat -and in doing so, the West Clymer church was closed and we all attended the church on top of the hill. In May of 1967, that church -First Lutheran, formerly Nebo Lutheran, was struck by lightning and within a very short period of time, was engulfed in flames and totally destroyed.

Because for about ten years or so prior to the fire, our minister served First Lutheran as well as Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Lanse -about 4-5 miles from Grassflat -it was decided that we would again have a consolidation and thus, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was formed. It took several years of worshiping in that small church before we eventually erected the beautiful sanctuary we have today, as that church was very cramped and much too small to accomodate the entire congregation.

Back when I was a teen, our church young people's group -known then as the Luther League -would usually have for our program in December a little service with the story about St. Lucia. We didn't however, do it up all that fancy the way we do the program now and have done for the past 27 years now. Back the, after the program, we served coffee and cake and that was it. Today, we have a big pot luck dinner prior to the pageant which also includes singing of Christmas carols, requests of favorites by those present. It is really a very festive celebration and one that never fails to make me really begin to feel the Christmas Spirit, year after year.

Back in 1980, Deb -my next-door neighbor now -served as the first St. Lucia and 25 years later, her daughter, Alena, also had the honor of being St. Lucia. Because they have always tried to go by the birthday of the girls in the church -especially when there are more than one who could serve as St. Lucia in that age range, the second girl to be St. Lucia was Karen Eyerly, daughter of my best friend and neighbor, Jim and Kate Nelson Eyerly. My older daughter, Carrie, was the third in line to be St. Lucia then and her turn came in 1982. A couple years back, we tried to get as many of the young women from our church who had served as St. Lucia to attend the program that year and it was really nice to see all of them together again.

This year, St. Lucia honor was split between two young ladies -Katie Hulett, daughter of Karen Eyerly Hulett and granddaughter of Jim and Kate Eyerly and Kathryn Ritter, daughter of Thad and Avis Ritter. Because Katie is the older of the two, she wore the white robe and Kathryn wore a traditional Swedish dress but both of them had a crown of candles, burning, as they made their entrance into the social hall at church tonight. Here then, are some photos and videos too of the celebration of St. Lucia Day.

Here's my son (Clayton), son-in-law, Bill, holding Maya -as they waited for the program to begin.

The tables, four of 'em, loaded with all kinds of great foods from homemade Swedish breads, several crocks of Swedish meatballs, roasted potatoes, pasta casseroles -thankfully, someone brought a big dish of macaroni and cheese so there were no issues with either Maya or Kurtis then during the meal -and lots and lots of other delicious items.
In this photo, the lady seated on the left in the light-colored sweater, is Gail Anderson Marcin, whose family used to live in Grassflat but moved, in the mid-50s to the Niagara Falls region. She and her husband, Bob, have been returning every year they can for the St. Lucia program. They've missed very few of 'em too! Seeing Gail and Bob there always lifts my spirits too -another way that gives me a beautiful sense of the Spirit of the Season. Seated across from Gail is Elsa Young, her grandson, Nathan Araway, her daughter (back to camera), Denise Araway and that's my life-long best friend, Kate Nelson Eyerly standing, talking to Denise.

Here's Gail's husband, Bob -talking to Howard Pillot -nephew of Kate Eyerly and son of Andrew "Bo" and Shirley Nelson Pillot. Shirley and Kate are sisters who lived two doors from me when I was growing up. Today, Kate lives two doors down but across the road from me and Shirley lives about six houses up the street from me. Howard babysat my kids off and on when they were little -even coming down here and sleeping here when I was working midnight shift for a while. He went to college with the idea initially of being a registered nurse but then, changed his mind and switched to studying the ministry. However, he ultimately decided that was not his calling and ended up being a teacher -and a very good one he is too over the mountain in the State College School District!

In this picture, that's Denise Shimel standing, talking to Shirley Pillot and her daughter-in-law, Kristina Fetter Pillot. Denise is very active in our church -choir, church council, WELCA, etc. and also, she was a member of our Autism Walk Team who really worked very hard to sign people up to participate and donate to our team!

Now, here's my son's "adopted" mother and neighbor, Mary Kaye Larson Gurbal -all decked out in her traditional Swedish dress, just right for this special occasion!

Here's the youngest member this year of St. Lucia's attendants - Jennie Adams -as she was helping St. Lucia to serve the delicious St. Lucia buns, baked by her grandmother, Florence Dahlgren Stickel. Jennie's going to really be an "old hand" when it is her turn to be St. Lucia as she has been in this program since she was about 3, maybe 4 years old!

And now, I give you some videos too! My apologies in that these are dark, but the room is candlelit when St. Lucia and her court make their entrance as well as their exit and remember, I'm also using my little digital camera -not a video camera per se too! But you can hear those attending as we sing "St. Lucia" and in the background, the loud noises that you may notice from time to time are coming from Kurtis -my grandson -who was quite taken by the whole program tonight! Because the attendants each carry a lit candle as they come into the room, Mandy decided it was a bit too risky to allow Maya to participate just yet -maybe next year though!

Here's the entrance then of St. Lucia's attendants this year.

This is the entrance of St. Lucia, as portrayed by Katie Hulett. and then, her exit too.

This is St. Lucia's court, as they exited the social room.

I had planned to post another video -one my son did with my camera for me, because I was a participant in this part of the program. That would be where those of us who are former members of the church choir along with anyone else who is brave and willing to come forward to join in the singing of a Swedish Christmas song -Lyssna, Lyssna. However, I can seem to get it to load with Blogger! Just taking an inordinate amount of time and nothing happening then, so I will spare you that visual of seeing me singing, although, the music is so pretty -to me, anyway, I am really disappointed that I couldn't get it to load correctly. So, maybe will save it for another time, another post, ya know!

Have a great week ahead now as we move into getting our final preparations done for the holiday!


Anonymous said...

What a great cultural lesson! I never knew Lutherans had Saints. I thought only the Catholics had Saints. Your menu makes me want to search out Swedish bakeries here in Phoenix just to see what the food is.

Debo Blue

Linda said...

Oh, look at all that yummy food and those pretty girls in the Festival! This looks like such a lovely tradition for the holidays; I bet you all had a marvelous time complete with mac and cheese for Maya and Kurtis! You can't beat that with a stick!

Jocelyn said...

Oh, I'd like to see you singing!

You're totally speaking Minnesotan in this post, by the way.

Vic Grace said...

Very interesting. You know I don't think I know anybody from Sweden or with that heritage. Wonderful when we can celebrate our traditions in North America without fear and worship as we please.

Maggie May said...

I know that song as Santa Lucia.
Sounds like a really close knit little community. Lovely tradition and St. Lucia...... lovely name.

Mary said...


Wow! This is an awesome celebration. Lots of food and the girls are beautiful. I enjoyed learning about this customs, my friend. Thanks so much for sharing and for posting the lovely photos.

Hope all is well with you.

Mary said...

PS. Drop by my blog, scroll down and nab some awards. :-)

Anonymous said...

Um...where are you?

Too much partying or are you trying to finish up those embroidery works before Christmas??

Debo Blue

magnetbabe said...

What a beautiful celebration! Sounds like a blast.