Following the Swedish tradition, Gustavus will be celebrating the Festival of St. Lucia on Dec. 11. The festival encourages servitude and community remembrance of the martyrdom of a young woman who refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Gustavus marks the day by nominating our very own “St. Lucia,” a female sophomore student who represents the qualities of leadership, service to the college, charity, kindness and thoughtfulness. This year, Sophomores Amber Kirk, Theatre Major Kim Braun, Music Major Sarah Cartwright, Political Science Major Rachel Schmitt, Communication Studies Major Bergit Nerheim and Religion Major Megan Myhre were nominated by the women of the sophomore class. Gustavus has followed this tradition since 1941.
“The Festival is an awesome tradition at Gustavus. It really brings to light the five core values of Gustavus, especially community and service. It is a great tradition and an example of how we are embedded in our Swedish heritage while having our own way of following traditions,” said Schmitt.
Many legends of St. Lucia exist, all of which center around Lucia’s kindness and charity. Lucia was known for risking her life in order to protect Christians from the onslaught of the Roman Empire.
Lucia wore a crown of candles to free her hands for bringing food and water to Christians hiding in the catacombs. Eventually, Lucia was put to death for her acts.
According to Swedish legend, Lucia rose again after burning at the stake and sailed to Sweden during a famine. Clothed in white and crowned with light she brought food and water just as she had for the oppressed Christians.
“We have celebrated the festival since 1941, so almost every living alumnus has experienced this tradition—it’s something that is very uniquely Gustavus,” said Barb Larson Taylor, adviser for the Guild of St. Lucia and assistant to the president for special projects. “Sophomores are chosen because St. Lucia, according to legend, was twenty years old when she was martyred. In Sweden, the tradition is very oriented in service and community, generally involving children waking up early and serving breakfast to their parents, or serving and singing carols to their neighbors who might not have children. This all begins in the early morning while it is still dark. Lucia represents the bringing of light and good spirit in anticipation of Christmas and as a reminder of servitude.”
The whole student body will select this year’s St. Lucia. “Part of the tradition starts on Wednesday night: when the results are in, the court meets and each one is given a candle. Then I’ll light the candle of the woman who is to be the new St. Lucia,” said Chaplain Brian Johnson.
The festival officially begins on the Thursday after Christmas in Christ Chapel, when the St. Lucia court wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to sing carols in residence halls. “It was fun to share the whole experience with four of my good friends, getting up at 5:00 a.m. … and going around and singing in the dorms.
A lot of people woke up early just to hear us, and that made it worth it,” said Katelyn Johnson, a junior communications studies major and last year’s St. Lucia.
The early morning caroling is followed by a 10:00 a.m. Chapel service in which one woman from the court is crowned St. Lucia and wears a traditional wreath on her head, complete with lit candles.
“Getting to win that crown would bring me back to my younger years when I used to dress up as St. Lucia for Christmas. I wouldn’t even be worried about having my hair catch fire, because that is a risk I’d be willing to take for that honor,” said Cartwright.
Other festivities will occur throughout the day, including a traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord and a holiday bake sale.
“We get to meet a lot of members of the St. Peter community who partake in the tradition,” said Schmitt. “Regardless of who is crowned St. Lucia, it is an awesome honor and privilege to be part of this tradition.”