The St. Lucia Festival has an important history here at Gustavus.
The story of the festival on campus will be gaining a new chapter on December 6.
However, the festival goes beyond the Gustavus community. St. Lucia Day, also known as Saint Lucy Day, has been celebrated for hundreds of years.
St. Lucia is one of only eight women recognized in the ‘Canon of the Mass’, a Catholic missal.
She was captured and was killed during the persecution of Christians in the third century.
Soon after her death, Westerners began to celebrate her life and contribution to the whole of Christianity.
This day, while Roman Catholic in nature, is celebrated by all major Christian branches of faith. St. Lucia’s celebration became a day of feasting and celebration after a legendary story of the Saint spread out of Sweden.
“According to Swedish legend, after Lucia’s death a ship carrying a maiden clothed in white and crowned with light appeared on the shore in the Swedish province of Varmland during a great famine. The maiden, widely believed to be Lucia, distributed food and clothing to the needy, thus endearing herself to the Swedish people,” says the Gustavus webpage covering the Scandinavian history of St. Lucia Day.
The day also became known as the festival of lights due to this tale.
“Different stories and traditions surround St. Lucia, but all focus on the central themes of service and light. St. Lucia is celebrated throughout the world, and honored by many cultures. In Sweden, Lucia symbolizes the coming end of the long winter nights and the return of light to the world,” says the Gustavus webpage.
While the festival may not be held near the end of a Minnesotan winter, it still stands as a nice reminder of what is to come.
Gustavus has been holding a St. Lucia Festival since 1941.
Another tie Gustavus has to St. Lucia is the choir named in her honor.
This group will perform a few songs during the festival.
This year, the festival will take place on December 6.
The start the festival, students nominate six sophomore girls to be on the St. Lucia Court.
The girls are said to represent the qualities of St. Lucia which are “courageous leadership, service to others, strength of character, and compassion and therefore is a light to others.” says the Gustavus webpage.
The girls’ classmates then vote on who most exemplifies these traits and who will be chosen to represent St. Lucia during the entirety of the festival.
This year’s candidates are Megan Nipe, Holly Fitterer, Tyra Banks, Ellie Croonquist, Signe Jeremiason, and Kristie Olson.
“In Scandinavian countries each town elects its own St. Lucia. The festival begins with a procession led by the St. Lucia designee, who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads,” says the Britannica Encyclopedia.
This process is the one Gustavus modelled its own after.
The entire event is planned and carried out by Senior Director Barb Larson Taylor and the Gustavus Library Associates. Taylor is also a co-advisor for the Guild of St. Lucia.
“The St. Lucia Festival is a time for the Gustavus community to pause during a busy time in the semester to honor and celebrate people who bring light into the world. The hope is that those who attend are inspired to shine their own light in ways to lead and serve their communities,” said Taylor.
The event is highly focused on not only recognizing and honoring St. Lucia, but also inspiring others to follow her example.
The main event of the festival is the mid-morning chapel service.
“The chapel service is from 10 to 10:30 a.m. in Christ Chapel, it is free and open to the public and will be live streamed and archived. The service is followed by a Scandinavian smörgåsbord luncheon and program,” said Taylor.
The ceremony will feature the six women representing the St. Lucia Court, the Guild of St. Lucia, as well as the Lucia choir.
The luncheon following the service will include traditional Swedish dishes.
In years past the members of the court of St. Lucia have eaten lutefisk together.
This festival, entering its 77th year at Gustavus, is a large part of campus history.
The traditions that began centuries ago and half of a world away are still alive and well. Senior Director Taylor, the Guild of St. Lucia, and the Gustavus Library Associates and many others have all worked to organize this event in order to honor St. Lucia and all that she represents.