Virtual festival of St. Lucia rings in the holiday season at Gustavus

The Festival of St. Lucia at Gustavus is an annual celebration of leadership, service, compassion and light. Gustavus began celebrating this tradition in 1941. It is typically celebrated in Sweden, where a family’s oldest daughter serves coffee and baked goods to her family at sunrise on Dec. 13, the feast day of St. Lucia.
This year’s Festival is being held virtually, and a video of the celebration will be available on the Gustavus website on Dec. 10.
The Chaplain’s office and the Marketing and Communication office collaborate each year to plan the Festival. This year, both offices had to think creatively about what they could do to keep the tradition alive while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Early on, the two offices decided that St. Lucia needed to happen in some form to keep the tradition alive during these difficult times.
“We had made a modified COVID-19 plan, and when the Lay Low order came out we had to modify that plan again. We decided that everything had to be virtual for COVID-19 safety,” Senior Directors of Institutional Events in Marketing and Communication and Advisor to the Guild of St. Lucia Barb Larson Taylor said.
Sophomore Nick Hagen, a filmmaker, works in the Chaplain’s office and was contacted about filming the St. Lucia ceremony this year.
“We decided it wouldn’t be very interesting for a video to re-create the service with no people in the Chapel, and so we kind of flipped it in the sense that we [highlighted] things that typically nobody else sees… Typically, the coronation ceremony is very private. It happens late on the night before the service in the Chapel, and it’s only the Court, the Guild and the kids. It’s a very intimate and private component of the festival. We decided to highlight that for the video,” Chaplain of the College Siri Erickson said.
“These women are leaders, they are compassionate and smart and they lead with grace and are some of the brightest people you could know. I feel very lucky to be among them,” Junior Kendra Held said.
Held was nominated for St. Lucia last year.
At last year’s Festival, audience members were provided printed programs for the first time. These programs included a description of each member of the court, their leadership roles and their extracurricular activities. This year, the Festival recording will include interviews with each member of the court that provide the same information.
For the virtual ceremony, all the St. Lucia nominees dressed up in their traditional clothes and were filmed conducting the celebration. This year’s Lucia was crowned and all were filmed performing the ceremony. Additionally, the St. Lucia Singers were brought in and their singing was recorded.
“We’ve held up what we think are some of the big themes that come out of the St. Lucia story, and I think those transcend cultures and normal times. There’s always a lesson that can be drawn upon. Now more than ever we need those messages of hope,” Larson Taylor said.
“It’s been a very challenging year for many people. There’s always been injustice in the world, but this year it’s become more visible to some, and injustices have been exacerbated. What St. Lucia means this year is that we need to put forth positive, constructive, inclusive leadership… This year is about resilience, it’s about learning and adapting and trying again,” Junior Kendra Held said.
Each year, six sophomore women are nominated for the position. Last year’s St. Lucia was Junior Hanaa Alhosawi, who was chosen by a campus-wide vote after being nominated.
“It was very exciting… I remember the moment I got crowned, and I was surprised, because I didn’t think I’d ever be crowned St. Lucia… I was super excited and honored that people voted for me. It was a very overwhelmingly nice feeling and I felt very warm with love,” Alhosawi said.
Women who have been nominated for St. Lucia typically don’t know until they are approached by a member of the St. Lucia Guild and given a rose and a letter explaining their nomination. The Guild of St. Lucia is an honors group of senior women responsible for planning the details of the festival each year.
“I didn’t even know what St. Lucia was… from nowhere, this beautiful person came up to me and gave me a rose with a card. She explained people had voted for me and I had been nominated for St. Lucia. I had to Google it later… That made my day,” Alhosawi said.
Held and her roommate were both nominated for St. Lucia last year.
“I was waiting in the car while she was in the Caf getting food and a couple of our upperclassmen friends stormed the car and they gave us our roses… it was a really sweet way to do it. It was such a humbling surprise and joy to receive our roses from people we looked up to,” Held said.
In past years, on the day of the Festival all the nominated women wake up early and sing Christmas carols in different residence halls before going to a St. Lucia breakfast held by Larson Taylor. There, they meet and mingle with past St. Lucias. After the ceremony, there is a Scandinavian lunch sponsored by the Gustavus Library Associates open to the public.
“I didn’t know any [Christmas carols], so I hummed through them. My stomach was hurting and I wasn’t feeling great, so I couldn’t do all the buildings. I was feeling better later, so we went to Barb’s house… everyone was great. The ceremony was a little intimidating, but very fun. The kids were super cute, one of them kept staring at the candles on top of my head and was just so fascinated through the whole ceremony,” Alhosawi said.
“It was one of the most beautiful days that I’ve ever experienced. It was such a whimsical experience, with a group of such graceful, intelligent young women. It was magical. It was a very humbling experience… and a very joyful day,” Held said.
In her recorded speech for this year’s Festival, Alhosawi spoke about the story of St. Lucia and reflected on what being nominated for St. Lucia meant to her.
“I talked about how it’s important to acknowledge and be grateful for the people who are lights in your life, and important in hard times to be lights for other people, but you should also be a light for yourself,” Alhowasi said.
“Over the last five years we’ve had Lucias from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I think it’s cool to show how a tradition very specific to Sweden also has a more human and universal message, how each of us is called to be a light in the world and has the capacity to lead and serve and show compassion when people are struggling and in times of need. These qualities are needed now as much as they ever have been,” Erickson said.

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