(From the left) Beth Bennett, Millie Johnson and Char Rotvold talk over final plans for the Santa Lucia Festival of Lights.
Tradition – it’s a large part of the holidays. For some it’s taking a trip north to find just the right Christmas tree, for others it’s the Hanukkah candle selection. Traditions call us to remember and celebrate our cultural and/or spiritual roots. We feel a sense of togetherness with those of similar beliefs.
Burnsville’s Ed Delmoro spoke fondly of the traditions in his childhood town and how this motivated him to spearhead the holiday lighting project in the Heart of the City.
Millie Johnson took on a similar challenge 25 years ago when a fellow member of Burnsville’s Faith Covenant Church lamented the seeming lack of holiday traditions in the Covenant church.
The break-away Lutheran church, founded in Sweden as the Mission Covenant Church, certainly has the traditional Christian symbols of Christmas, but no story to really call its own. However, a Sicilian story of St. Lucia somehow made its way to Sweden and into their Scandinavian hearts. Now, during the depths of winter darkness, Swedes remember her with the Festival of Lights.
For those at Faith Covenant Church, the festival is held the first Saturday of December. The church hall is transformed into a winter-wonderland, and along with the story of St. Lucia, Scandinavian delicacies are served – lefsa, herring, fruit soup, Lussekatter (St. Lucia buns) and Krumkake are only a sampling of foods served by women dressed in traditional Swedish garb.
It takes teamwork to prepare the food and serve nearly 800 people throughout the morning. There are three seatings – with only a half an hour between.
“Someone said this is the best example of team ministry,” Millie said.
There’s a lot to do – the gift shop with Swedish crafts, the baked goods, the decorations, the program, and of course the servers and those that prepare the food.
Millie may have gotten the event going 25 years ago, but now she said she is “just the cheerleader. Everyone takes ownership … I just tell them what a great job they are doing.”
Church member Barb Jarvis called the preparations a “spirit-filled” event. It all starts in early November when women get together in the church kitchen to make Krumkake – about 2,000 of the rolled, hard-shelled sweet.
The activity comes to a crescendo the week of the event when it’s all hands on deck for the final food preparations, decorating and making sure that things are just so.
There may be other Santa Lucia festivities in the Twin Cities this time of the year, but Millie thinks they “don’t hold a candle” to what this one has become.
From the music provided by the American Swedish Institute Spelmanslag, to the food and the powerful story of Santa Lucia, if you didn’t say “God Jul” (Merry Christmas) when you entered, it will certainly be on your lips and in your heart when you leave.