Saint Lucia’s Day lights the way
By Robert Stevens
Dec. 21, 2017
EPHRAIM—When the Ephraim Co-op wanted to host a new fundraising event, they looked to local Scandinavian culture connections when they decided to put on a Saint Lucia’s Day program.
Held on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the Co-op, the program, which Gloria Winter, co-op treasurer, says was born out of need for a fundraiser to replace the craft fair, is a traditional Scandinavian Christian holiday that celebrates Saint Lucia.
Saint Lucia was a persecuted Christian woman who was named a saint for her generosity and devotion to the poor, sick and needy, says Kristin Brown, event organizer.
Winter says the Ephraim Co-op chose Brown to organize the event because of her LDS mission to Sweden, where she became intimately familiar with the Scandinavian culture that has planted so many roots in Ephraim.
Brown reminisced, “As a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sweden, I was introduced to the Saint Lucia Day celebrations and found it to be one of the most delightful Scandinavian traditions I experienced. Although I am of Scandinavian descent, I had never heard of Saint Lucia.”
She continued, “Sadly, it is a tradition that has slipped away for many families of Scandinavian origin. Lucia symbolizes the light of Christ and service to those less fortunate, as well as goodness, love, and unity—all important qualities for any family to emphasize and teach. It was an honor to help bring back this tradition to the Sanpete Valley, which is home to so many people of Scandinavian heritage.”
Brown said during the third century A.D. Lucia would sneak down into the catacombs and bring food to imprisoned Christians. In order to carry more food in her arms, Lucia is said to have worn a crown of candles to light the way.
According to Brown, life in Scandinavia was often difficult and hard to endure, fraught with darkness and cold with sometimes little to eat.
A Swedish legend says during a particularly bad famine, a ship carrying a maiden “clothed in white and crowned with light” appeared on the shore in the Swedish province of Varmland.
The maiden, said Brown, who was widely believed to be Lucia, distributed food and clothing to the needy, thus endearing herself to the Swedish people.
Traditionally, Brown said, the eldest daughter of a family arises in the dark the morning of Dec. 13 and wakes her family by bringing them a tray of buns and coffee, often singing Christmas songs.
“She embodied Lucia and brightened the dark December morning with a bright red sash around her white gown and a crown of greens and glowing candles on her head,” said Brown. “Today, she may also be a teenage girl or young woman chosen by her club, class or school to portray Lucia in a special pageant.”
The most famous Saint Lucia pageant is held in Stockholm, Sweden, following a nationwide contest that chooses who is to be honored as Lucia. Huge crowds gather to watch the procession through the streets to the city’s town hall.
Brown said it’s a great honor to be chosen as Lucia, as her responsibilities include visiting hospitals and orphanages where her beautiful presence eases pain and sadness.
The Ephraim Co-op Saint Lucia program had its own procession led by Snow College student Alexi Thatcher and her attendants, Kate Stewart, Tamsin Stewart, Jocelyn Stewart, Brooklyn Larsen, Nettie Knudsen, Mara Thompson and Avery Thompson.
In addition to the candlelit procession, the holiday program had a complete Scandinavian smorgasbord with traditional foods such as cured salmon, Swedish meatballs, pickled herring and rice pudding.
Musical performances for the program included Christmas favorites.
Brad Waldron and Stephanie Jardine played a cello and piano duet of “Carol of the Bells” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Randy Peterson played guitar and sang “Silent Night” in German.
Allison Bradley played “O Holy Night” on the piano, and Brown led all in the room in a rendition of “Joy to the World.”
Before the night of traditional holiday reverie ended, Brown presented three winners with gifts. The winners each received a treat for finding an almond placed in the rice pudding, a traditional Scandinavian game.
Brown said organizing the event brought back some great memories of her time on her mission.
“I was very pleased with the event,” Brown said. “With it being the first year the co-op has held the celebration, there is always a learning curve, and it was hard to know how well it would be received by the community. But I think everyone who attended had a wonderful time and enjoyed eating traditional Scandinavian foods, watching the beautiful Lucia procession and listening to uplifting music.”
She added, “The hope is that those who came will tell their family, friends and neighbors about the event and attendance will increase each year until it becomes the most anticipated event of the holiday season!”