Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lucia at IKEA

As usual, our singing groups (Apollo and the Scandinavian Women's Chorus of Connecticut) held two annual Lucia celebrations this year. One was held at IKEA in New Haven and the other at Christ Lutheran Church in Hamden - our home base.

Little children from the area, with some connection to Scandinavians or those of Scandinavian descent, gathered to dress up in white gowns, star boy suits and glitter to celebrate this typical Swedish holiday. The girl selected to be Lucia never showed up, which meant that the only real Swede on the team - ME! - had to put on the crown of battery-operated lights and take on the role of a 4th century saint.

Let me tell you, it doesn't give you the same warm, fuzzy feeling as when you are 12 years old and get the honor of being Lucia - but it is still pretty cool!

Below, for those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, is the description of this holiday and its history, i.e., my speech from the church celebration two weeks ago:

"Lucia is a Swedish holiday celebrated every year on Dec. 13 to spread joy and light in the dark winter night.

In every community, every city and every school, people select a girl to be the Lucia of the year. Other girls become attendants of the Lucia. Male participants are star boys, little elves or gingerbread men.

All dress up in white gowns. Lucia wears a crown of lights on her head, and the attendants wear glitter in their hair and carry candles. Star boys carry a star on a stick and wear a cone-like hat.

Together, the Lucia party visits schools, hospitals or homes for the elderly to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. The group sings songs about overcoming darkness and hands out ginger snaps and saffron buns to all around them.

This tradition to celebrate Lucia goes back to the 4th Century. An Italian saint – St. Lucia, or as American’s know her, St. Lucy of Syracuse – was killed because of her faith on Dec. 13 in 304 AD.

St. Lucy was known to be brave, generous and radiant. She was also a Christian, and the Roman emperor was not.

The emperor sentenced her to death by burning. But miraculously, St. Lucy could not be burned. The guards of Syracuse finally had to stab her in the chest to kill her.

The Swedish Lucia today wears a red ribbon around her waist. This ribbon represents the blood from when St. Lucy was killed so many years ago.

The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life.
The Lucia events held today come from a 16th century German tradition. As you can see, the spirit of St. Lucy is alive – in Scandinavia, and right here in this church."

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