A traditional Scandinavian holiday, the St. Lucia Festival is a hallmark event in Little Sweden USA.
With a wreath of evergreen, dotted with lingonberries, and candles atop her head, St. Lucia welcomes in the Christmas season in Scandinavian tradition. While Lindsborg’s holiday festivities are in full swing at the beginning of December, it’s their St. Lucia Festival that has become the treasured seasonal event.
So the Legend Goes
Before I tell you more, let me give you a little history of St. Lucia and why she is celebrated. Her story begins in ancient Rome, where she was killed for her Christian religious beliefs. St. Lucia, or Lucy, is one of the earliest Christian martyrs. Her feast day is the 13th of December, also known as the festival of lights.
When Scandinavian and Nordic people converted to Christianity, they embraced the legend of St. Lucia into their celebration of the winter solstice. The emblem of light on the darkest day of the year. Another tale passed down is when Sweden was enduring a famine. In the midst of that winter, Lucia, shining with light, steered a ship filled with food across the waters of Lake Vännern. Saving the people from starvation.
Generations of Swedish families honor Lucia by having the eldest daughter dressed in a white gown, red sash, and traditionally a crown of lingonberry branches with seven lit candles; serving ginger cookies and coffee to her family. Communities hold church services and town-wide festivals.
FUN FACT: Guinness World Records has decreed the St. Lucia procession in Ericsson Globe in Stockholm as the largest in the world, with 1200 participants.
Back in Lindsborg
Held on the second weekend in December, festivities begin at 10:00 AM. On this particular trip I drove in that morning (it’s only two hours from Topeka). Arriving in town a little after 9 o’clock, I had time to pop into Blacksmith Coffee Shop and grab a hot chocolate before going out into the brisk morning air.
TRAVEL TIP: If you would rather arrive the night before, I recommend staying at Dröm Sött, Sweet Dreams Inn.
It’s not hard to find where the event begins. Follow the high school-age dancers dressed in colorful apron dresses and vests. Also, the gathering crowd is a pretty good indication you’re in the right place. Lindsborg’s Swedish Folk Dancers and their musical accompaniment, kick off the day with vibrant, fun-filled traditional dances on Main Street. There's even an opportunity for audience participation.
After the dances, a procession led by St. Lucia and her attendants began their journey to Bethany Lutheran Church. Following is the 4th grade St. Lucia service at the church. In case you're curious about how St. Lucia is selected because I was, the younger Lucia and stjärngossar (star boy, who represents the Star of Bethlehem) are chosen by vote from their 4th-grade classmates. Their high school counterparts are drawn from names in a hat.
Once the service concluded, cookies and hot drinks were served in the courtyard of the church. Looking at the schedule there was a break in activities. I took this as an opportunity to do a little retail therapy, stopping in Hemslöjd, Trollslända, The Good Merchant and no trip to Lindsborg is complete without visiting Small World Gallery. While downtown, I caught glimpses of St. Lucia as she offered refreshments to those she passed on the sidewalk.
Before heading off to see the afternoon performances, I decided lunch was next on my agenda. With the attitude of “when in Rome” but more like “when in Little Sweden” I headed straight to Crown and Rye. A local favorite restaurant, it serves up both traditional Scandinavian cuisine and American dishes.
While I thought it might be cliche I ordered the Köttbullar aka Swedish meatballs. Once I dug in, those thoughts quickly left. All I could think was that these are AMAZING! So well seasoned, juicy and tender. Layed out on a bed of egg noodles with a beefy cream sauce, it was balanced and each component complemented the dish.
After a hearty, satisfying lunch, I was ready to head back down for the afternoon portion of the St. Lucia Festival. The community gathered again at the Bethany Lutheran Church first to watch the Lindsborg Folkdanslag, a small adult folk dancing group, perform. Then the Lindsborg Swedish Folk Dancers entertained the crowd with a second routine.
The festival concludes with the final church service. At the back of the church, before proceeding to the altar, the candles of Lucia's crown are lit. She begins her walk, followed by stjärngossar and the attendants. All dressed in white gowns. For thirty minutes, the church is filled with traditional Scandinavian music and holiday songs. The grand finale occurs when St. Lucia offers her family sweet ginger cookies and hot cider.
While the St. Lucia Festival came to end, celebrating the holidays continued well in into the evening with an Old Fashion Christmas at the McPherson County's Old Mill Museum. Unfortunately, I had to get back on the road. But, now I have a new item on my Lindsborg bucket list waiting to be checked off.