By Rick de la Torre
If you understand some Swedish, you’ll know that means Merry Christmas. And if you understand the Swedish culture, you know that this is the time of year when celebrations are traditionally held to honor St. Lucy, also known as Santa Lucia.
One of those celebrations happened on Saturday, Dec. 17 when about 100 people gathered for a Lucia pageant and dinner at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Garden Grove.
The event was presented by Evening Star Lodge #426, based in Orange County, which is part of the VASA Order of America, a Swedish-American fraternal, cultural and educational organization.
As it has for most if not all of the past 94 years of the lodge’s existence, Evening Star presented its court of girls who represent the Christian spirt and light of Lucia, a young woman from Sicily who was martyred for her faith around 300 A.D. The actual St. Lucy Day, which is also celebrated in other Scandinavian and European countries, falls on Dec. 13.
“It’s scary but I was proud to do it,” said Sara DeLaurenti, 13, of Huntington Beach, about how nervous she was to serve as this year’s “Lucia” and lead a solemn procession of “Lucia Maidens” accompanied by a group of “Star Boys.” The whole group sang a repertoire of holiday folk songs in Swedish and English.
The pressure was on, no doubt, for Sara. Her sister, Rachel, who had served as the lodge’s Lucia three years ago, was watching along with their beaming parents, John and Diane.
Proud parents and family members were also on hand for two “birthright” maidens, Alexis de la Torre of Long Beach and Natalie Dickerson of Whittier. The 12-year-old friends were born on the same bright day: Dec. 13.
The tradition calls for pageant participants to dress in long white gowns with red sashes and wear a crown of candles and other hair decorations or hats while carrying candles in their hands. In modern times, and for the sake of safety, the actual candles have given way to small battery lights.
It’s important for the older generations of Swedish-Americans to pass along an understanding and appreciation of customs to the younger groups, said Haakan Spaberg, 51, a Garden Grove resident who serves as the Evening Star chairman. His mother, Gunlog, who is still a very active member, joined the lodge in 1964.
“It means that the Old Swedish tradition and culture are still alive,” he said about the importance of Lucia festivities. But the challenge, he notes, is constant as many lodges across the nation have closed down as the membership ages and new members don’t come forward. Evening Star is one of only 15 still functioning in Southern California.
But the crowd at Our Redeemer was festive and full of youthful holiday spirit and chatter, not to mention food. On the serving tables were many homemade Swedish favorites such as meatballs, pickled herring, beet salad and limpu bread.
The occasion was enough to impress Mattias Soderstrom, who traveled with his family from his hometown of Eskilstuna, Sweden to visit local relatives. “I think this is really nice, to have a gathering of Swedes here and those who are still there,” he said. “This shows the shared values and culture of Sweden and America. We are so far away, but still so close.”
His daughter Clara, 10, was one of the maidens and she apparently sang the Swedish verses just fine.
The other pageant participants, mostly comprised of teams of brothers and sisters, were maidens Hayley Bennett, Evelyn Dickerson, Makayla Kornoff, Vivianna Kornoff, Ida Soderstrom and Taylor Rose Wood, along with star boys Gavin Caballero, Adam Sampson, Philip Sampson, Jay Kornoff and Hampus Soderstrom.
Categories: Garden Grove