Light for the Poor

The Gammelgarden Museum honors St. Lucia with a worship service and breakfast every year since 1983.
Ella Haraldson, granddaughter of Stillwater’s Ann and Mike Haraldson, embraces her Scandinavian roots this St. Lucia’s Day.

With the large population of Swedish immigrants who settled in Minnesota, many customs have been preserved through time. One such tradition is the feast day of St. Lucia, a third-century Christian living in Sicily who practiced her faith in secret.  

After giving her dowry money to the poor to celebrate the healing of her sick mother, Lucia was turned in to pagan authorities for being a Christian by her betrothed and ultimately burned at the stake. Swedes honor the martyr for her courage, commitment to faith and dedication to feeding the poor.

Hundreds of Minnesotans have been honoring St. Lucia at the Gammel-garden Museum event every year since 1983. One of the Gammelgarden’s traditions includes choosing a girl from the Minneapolis Suenfkarnaf Dag Girls Choir to represent St. Lucia throughout the day; Gammelkyrkan Church chooses another girl, a high school junior, who also represents St. Lucia and greets guests. The girls wear a white dress for purity, a red sash to symbolize martyrdom and a crown of lights, since Lucia means “light.”

The worship service is held at the oldest Lutheran church in Minnesota,  Gammelkyrkan Church, followed by a breakfast at the community center with traditional Swedish holiday fare: hard-boiled eggs, cheese, pickled herring, Lucia buns, rice pudding with fruit soup, Christmas cookies, salmon mousse, coffee and root beer.  

Gammelgarden director Lynne Blomstand Moratzka thinks the St. Lucia event is a special way to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season. “People come to the old church early in the morning, around 5:15 a.m., and walk into the church that’s only lit by people holding candles. It’s really special,” she says.

The St. Lucia event will be held at the Gammelgarden Museum on December 11. Worship services are from 6 to 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 to 9 a.m. at Gammelkyrkan Church. Breakfast will be served at the community center at 7 and 9 a.m. Tickets for the breakfast are available at the door. Gammelgarden Museum.