July 1, 2016


Season of light: Grace Lutheran Church presents traditional Santa Lucia pageant


Religion Editor

WADSWORTH — With bells wildly jingling at the tips of their pointed red hats, the tomtes skipped and bounced down the main aisle of Grace Lutheran Church, shattering the Saturday morning quiet.

Tomtes — you might describe them as the Swedish version of Christmas elves — are just the beginning of a procession that includes bakers, starboys and attendants.

Look a little closer, and it’s the children of Grace Lutheran you’ll see, stepping into their Santa Lucia pageant roles for the first time.

Mackenzie McMaster, 2, and other children of Grace Lutheran Church gather to practice Nov. 29 for the Santa Lucia pageant. (Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)

About 25 kids will participate in the pageant at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the church, located at 146 High St. A reception with refreshments will follow.

At rehearsal Nov. 29, everyone is moving fast, wriggling and giggling their way around the sanctuary.

“It’s going to take the bakers a lot longer to come up the aisle, about 10 minutes or so,” said Deborah McMaster, the church’s family ministries director, as she supervised the march of munchkins. “You’ll be handing out cookies to everyone as you go, and everyone will want a cookie.”

A crown of candles

Lucia herself will be portrayed by Raeann Vuona, 16.
Wearing a crown of five candles on her head, red sash stark against a long white gown, she will carry a tray of coffee bread and walk steadily toward the altar. Music will swirl around her as she approaches, candlelight illuminating her face.

The night walks with heavy steps around farm and cottage.
Around the Earth, forsaken by the sun, shadows are lowering.
Then into our dark house, she treads with lighted candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

The tune is familiar, but the words are in Swedish.

The children practice singing along with tapes and CDs at home, using song sheets with the phonetic version of the Swedish lyrics. In the church, their voices sound sweet and thin, a little hesitant as they taste the new language and let the words roll around their mouths.

Swedish traditions

This is all part of the wonder of the Christmas season McMaster grew up with in Massachusetts. Her aunt, Gladys Lanquist, was the go-to person when it came to producing a traditional Swedish Sankta Lucia pageant.

“Everyone knew about Santa Lucia pageants,” McMaster said later as she snugged a red cap down on a tomte’s head. “My aunt was very involved in Swedish heritage groups. She did a big pageant in Mechanics Hall (like Severance Hall) every year. It’s something I love doing. It’s important not only for people of Swedish heritage, but I think it’s important for all kids to know how other countries celebrate.”

The night is vast and mute, Now hear reverberate,
In all silent rooms a rustle of wings.

See, on our threshold stand, white clad, lights in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

Ohio congregations were not as familiar with Lucia’s celebration, so McMaster set to work, educating people on the finer pageant points, recruiting children and parents willing to coach their children to sing in Swedish.

After a short doughnut and juice break, Rorri Sutton, 7, and Alissa Busson, 10, tried on baker’s hats and aprons, while David Dawson, 13, sported a tall, conical star-spangled hat and carried a star-topped staff.

“Now I feel like a real baker,” Alissa said with a little giggle as she patted the poufy part of the hat.

Although some Lucia crowns use battery-powered candles, Vuona will wear the real deal. McMaster hefted the metal base she will trim in greenery for the pageant. Unlike a wreath circlet, this fits like a cap around Lucia’s head.

“In Massachusetts, there’s a store we go to for things like this, but I found this online in a Swedish catalogue,” she explained. “We secure the candles with wax dots, so they don’t move.” And although every pageant she’s every participated in has come off without a hitch, they will place buckets of water in strategic spots at the rear and front of the church. “We’ve always used real candles, but the buckets make people feel better.”

The children settled down to string bells for their costumes, with McMaster’s “partner in crime,” Karen Sisler, supervising.

“This is something my aunt and my grandparents taught me,” McMaster said, a thoughtful look on her face as she packed things away after rehearsal. “If it’s not handed down, if I don’t teach it to someone, it will be gone. Things like this, these parts of our heritage, are too important to lose.”

The darkness will soon take flight from the valleys of Earth.

Thus she a wonderful word to us speaks.

The day shall again, reborn, rise from a rosy sky.

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

Totts may be reached at 330-721-4063 or religion@ohio.net.