Edgewater Celebrates Lucia

Vol. II No. 2 - WINTER 1989

By: Gloria L. Evenson

Considering Edgewater’s Swedish background, it’s no surprise to find Luciafests among its holiday activities.

Lucia Day, December 13, is a centuries-old tradition in Sweden, honoring Christian martyr Lucia, whose name-day falls on that date. Though legend varies, it is generally told that Lucia was born in Sicily circa 300 A.D., a time of severe Christian persecution. In keeping with her beliefs, she gave her dowry money to the poor and helped feed the Christians who were forced to hide in catacombs. It has been said she wore a wreath of lighted candles on her head to light her way as she carried food through the dark tunnels.

Lucia’s activities so enraged her fiancĂ©, whose only interest was in her large dowry, that he turned her over to government authorities as a Christian. Lucia would not deny her faith and was sentenced to burn at the stake. Surprisingly, however, her body refused to burn. The authorities tortured and, eventually, managed to kill her by stabbing. Lucia’s body had been destroyed, but not her spirit.

The Lucia legend was introduced to Sweden by missionaries in the 18th century. Since then, Sweden has accepted Lucia as a symbol of the light and hope of Christ. December is a month of almost total darkness in Sweden, a time when light and hope are very important.

On Lucia Day, the oldest daughter in a Swedish home traditionally dons a white robe (symbolizing life) and a crown of lighted candles (symbolizing the light of Christ) and takes breakfast of coffee and Lussekatter (saffron buns) to the rest of the household, as Lucia had brought food to her fellow Christians in hiding. Often schools, businesses and other organizations elect their own Lucias for the day, who serve coffee and Lussekatter.

The significance of Lucia Day has varied in Edgewater. 1989 plans for December 13, however, are typical of the way the neighborhood has honored Lucia in recent years.

A Lucia queen will be selected from representatives of several Chicago-area Swedish cultural groups at a “Queen of Lights” ceremony at noon in Daley Plaza, sponsored by the Central Swedish Committee of Chicago.

The “Andersonville Festival of Lights” (now in its fifth year) begins at 4:45 p.m., when newly-crowned Miss Lucia and her court process down Clark, from Philadelphia Church to the Swedish American Museum at Foster, carrying lighted candles. At this time, area shop owners are asked to display lighted candles in their windows. Community groups and all other interested persons are invited to bring candles as well, and gather along Clark to greet the procession and then follow it to the Museum for a caroling party at 5:00 p.m.

According to Museum Director, Kerstin Lane, community caroling, entertainment by Swedish soprano Ingmari Wahlgren and her two children, a Santa Claus (or Jul Tomten) with surprises and presentation of the Lucia court will be part of Museum festivities. The “Festival of Lights,” which is co-sponsored by the Museum and the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, closes with the unison singing of “Silent Night” in everyone’s native tongue.

At 7:00 p.m. the “Festival of Santa Lucia” will be held at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster, in cooperation with the Museum. This is an annual event to which loyal “Svenskarnas” (and even a few Norwegians) flock from miles around. It is actually advisable to arrive an hour early to guarantee a seat.

Yearly favorites here include Swedish carol singing, appearances by Swedish entertainment groups in costume, greetings from the Swedish Consulate General (presently Hon. Lave Johnsson) and heads of various Scandinavian organizations, and a narration of the Lucia story by a minister of Ebenezer.

Then lights are dimmed as the Lucia court comes forward, an impressive sight in their white gowns with light from candles they hold reflecting on tinsel garlands in their hair. All is hushed save for the soft singing of “Sankta Lucia” in the background. Each girl is recognized and often presented with a small gift on behalf of the community.

Another carol is sung in Swedish and, as this final aspect of Lucia Day draws to a close, one can always sense strong community feeling and a tremendous pride in Edgewater’s Scandinavian heritage.

A Lucia pageant has also been a holiday tradition observed by the Salvation Army’s Andersonville Corps, 1473 W. Berwyn, for 90 of the Corps’ 100 years in Edgewater. Though Swedes are now rare in the multi-ethnic congregation (there has been a black Lucia for several years), the Lucia legend continues to be told as an example of faith by the Corps’ young people who perform the pageant. The Salvation Army’s Luciafest this year is December 10 and is being coordinated by Lt. Col. Birgitta Nilson.

Some of you may already have taken advantage of another bit of tradition on December 1-3 at the Swedish Museum’s annual Julmarknad days. Julmarknad, which means Christmas Market, provides an early opportunity to enjoy traditional Swedish Christmas music, dance, arts and crafts, gift items, food and, of course, the chance to meet the Museum’s own lovely Lucia. If you missed it this year, please keep it in mind for 1990.