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Celebrating Santa Lucia

Locals gather to keep Swedish tradition alive

Posted: December 14, 2008 7:44 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2008 4:30 a.m.

Ireland Moon sings a traditional Santa Lucia song in Swedish at a pageant hosted by the Nordic Heritage Lodge 741 in Valencia Sunday.

The cold December sky had just faded to black Sunday night when Lucia, in a white gown and a crown of candles glided into the room.

Young boys with tall paper cone hats and girls with glittered hair followed in procession and sang with her the treasured song of Santa Lucia.

They were thousands of miles from Sweden, but a group of Swedish Santa Claritans made sure to keep the tradition alive, celebrating light in the dark of winter, and goodness in a sometimes dark world.

"Lucia stands for the symbol of light and hope for all mankind," said Ann Heinstedt, a Valencia resident and the children's club director of Nordic Heritage Lodge No. 741. The group has about 30 members of Scandinavian descent, most of which are Swedish, she said.

For more than a decade, the group has celebrated Santa Lucia holiday each December. The holiday is a Swedish tradition rooted more than 1,700 years in the past.

Legend has it a young girl, about to become a bride, carried her lamp through her village at night and gave her entire dowry to the poor. She was accused of witchcraft when she said she was a Christian and was burned at the stake on Dec. 13, 304 A.D.

A tradition of feasting, singing and goodwill lasts through the Christmas holiday and is celebrated in nearly every Swedish home, she said.

In pageant ceremonies, Lucia, in a white gown, strolls into a room with a crown of lingonberries and candles - usually battery-operated - to represent goodwill. Lucia traditionally brings a tray with coffee, saffron buns and ginger cookies and sometimes glogg, a hot wine.

Sunday's Lucia ceremony was followed by a dance around a Christmas tree and a Smörgåsbord of deviled eggs, potatoes with anchovies and pickled cucumbers.

"It's a lot of fun and we try to keep it alive for everybody," said Heinstedt.

She said she knows there's a lot of Swedes in the Santa Clarita Valley, but many don't know about the organization.

"We're pretty proud of it," she said. "And our kids really like the whole Swedish culture that we embrace."

Seventeen-year-old Kersti Martinsson, who played Lucia, said she looks forward to the holiday every year.

"It really connects you with Sweden," she said.

Canyon Country resident Britt Anderson grew up in Sweden and said her mother would place a wet handkerchief on her head when she played the part of Lucia since they used to use real candles, she said.

In Sweden, she said Santa Lucia is everywhere in mid December.

"It's at just about every hospital, office, school - they have Lucia everywhere," she said.

"It's a very special holiday," she said. "It brings light into the darkness."


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