Family carries on Swedish tradition of St. Lucia Day
EVANSVILLE Grandma Grace Murray hurried down the hall after her granddaughter with a plate of Santa Lucia buns.
"OK, time to put the crown on," she said to Kymberlee Rethlefsen, 9, as they prepared to celebrate the Swedish holiday tradition of St. Lucia Day.
Moments later, Kymberlee appeared in the living room with a shy smile dressed in a white gown and red sash, a crown of five battery-powered candles on her head and the plate of buns.
Her grandma recited the St. Lucia song from a book as she made her entrance.
Kymberlee carefully served her grandma's homemade Santa Lucia buns with raisins to her waiting family on the couch, Grandma Mary Droster and her moms, Karin Rethlefsen and Kirsten Tesar. They also had the option of a plate of banana or cranberry breads or ginger cookies.
The family was carrying on the Swedish tradition for the first time since 1985. Murray and her husband, Bill, of Janesville celebrated at Kymberlee's home in Evansville on Thursday night.
St. Lucia Day, also known as St. Lucy Day, brings a message of hope and light, explained Grace, who is 100 percent Norwegian. She described the story of St. Lucia, who had lots of money and gave it to help the poor when the Romans were persecuting Christians. She would go into caves to feed people while putting torches on her head to see.
A Roman soldier later killed her, and Dec. 13 is observed as the date she was made a saint, Grace said.
In traditional celebrations, the oldest daughter of the household dons the long white dress with red sash and candle crown and serves coffee and Santa Lucia buns to family members.
The family started the tradition when Karin was 6 or 7. She and her sister Candy Hagen, who lives in Texas, played the role of St. Lucia. Their celebration spread to be incorporated into their school Christmas program.
Kymberlee was just grateful the crown of candles on her head Thursday weren't real—unlike the ones her family previously used.
"We were all nervous," Grace said as she showed a picture of Candy with real candles atop her head.
Kymberlee wore a battery-powered Lucia crown that came from a Scandinavian import shop.
The celebration marks the beginning of the Christmas season for many Swedish families.
"It's wonderful to have our tradition continue," Grace said. "I love celebrating anything Christmas."