Lucia Festival of Light

STRATFORD – Elaine Lundquist, of Stratford, has been a part of the annual Lucia Festival of Light at the Stratford Lutheran Church for years.

“Usually, I’m in the kitchen,” she said Saturday.

This year, she was front and center. She was crowned the 2015 Lucia at the Swedish Foundation of Iowa “Swede Bend” Settlement-hosted event.

She had a few jitters.

“You always get nervous,” she said.

The Swedish Christmas tradition honors St. Lucia. She was a Sicilian noble who was put to death by the Romans in the year 303 after she refused to recant her Christian faith.

Sierra Miller, 16, of Boxholm, last year’s Lucia, spoke Saturday about St. Lucia’s life.

“Her light would shine bright in a dark world,” she said. “Lucia gave up her entire future to help the poor and other Christians. She would wear her light on her head when visiting them in caves so she could carry food in both arms.”

The modern Swedish tradition began in the 1920s when a Stockholm newspaper held a Lucia contest. The festival spread through Sweden.

In each Swedish home, a Lucia, usually the oldest female child, will wear a white robe with a red sash and awaken the family while wearing lights on her head. Large processions go through the town. Families enjoy saffron buns, cookies and coffee.

Other children dress as Star Boys and Tomte Boys, a type of elf that lives in the home under the floorboards and, if not fed rice pudding, is a maker of mischief.

In Stockholm, the early morning precession, by tradition, wakes the Nobel prize winners.

As the reigning Lucia for the last year, Miller got to show off her crown and share her heritage at the annual Iowa Central Community College International Fair.

“I dress up and stand at the Swedish booth,” she said. “It was really good.”

Her sister, Maddie Miller, was Lucia in 2010.

She missed Sierra Miller’s crowning last year.

“She called,” Sierra Miller said. “She told me, it’s in our blood.”

One tradition that might not get followed, though, at least by this year’s Lucia, is staying up all night then awakening the family.

“Probably not,” Elaine Lundquist said.

The local annual Lucia Festival of Light alternates between picking a young maiden and picking a more experienced one.

Darrell Young, of Stratford, who welcomed the crowd, explained.

“We’re out of young maidens,” he said, “so we’re using older maidens. They have to over 60.”

Next year, it’s the youths’ turn.