Parishioners at Old Swedes Church in Wilmington celebrated a joyous and uniquely Swedish tradition on Sunday – the feast of Sankta Lucia, marking the official beginning of their Christmas season.
The ceremony of lights is held each year in cities around the world on the Sunday closest to December 13th, when Sweden celebrates their winter solstice. When the first candle is lit, it is meant to announce the birth of Jesus.
The entire Old Swedes congregation was illuminated in candlelight as this year’s Sankta Lucia – Jane Haracz, a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program at Mt. Pleasant High School – led other younger children in their procession into the church.
The feast day included a special role for everyone, from toddlers to teenagers, and bright-eyed parents and grandparents, who enjoyed hearing the age-old Christmas narrative and traditional Swedish Lucia songs, which were sung in both English and Swedish.
Most children were dressed in white and carried one lighted candle. Girl attendants wore white robes with tinsel around their waists, and the boys (starboys) were dressed in white robes, cone hats, and carried stars. But those barely old enough to stand also took part – the little curious elves were dressed in red and carried red lanterns up to the altar.
Haracz also donned a crown of fresh greens and lit candles on her head. The Sankta Lucia means ‘bearer of light.’ Only one young lady may serve as the Sankta Lucia — a high school student with demonstrated interest in Swedish tradition.
Haracz has participated in the Lucia program since she was 6 years old. She also welcomed the King and Queen of Sweden when they visited Wilmington in 2013 and sang the Swedish national anthem at the annual Festival at the Fort that same year.
Dedicated on July 4, 1699, Old Swedes Church is a Delaware landmark. The Delaware Swedish Colonial Society (DSCS) has hosted a Lucia celebration at the church every year since 1977. “Our mission is to promote an understanding and appreciation of the Swedish and Finnish culture and traditions,” said Ingrid Magnusson McAllister, president of the DSCS. “We are proud of this historic site, the wonderful Lucia celebration that can be enjoyed by all, and the part our church and its traditions play in an area so rich with Swedish history.”