75 Years of St. Lucia

It begins during the darkest time of the year. It ends in hope. This year, the crowning takes place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8.
Posted on December 5th, 2016 by

St. Lucia and Court, 1981. Traditionally the Festival service takes place at Christ Chapel with a Scandinavian smörgåsbord luncheon after. The Festival service is open to the public. Luncheon tickets are $25 and can be purchased at gustavustickets.com.

Gustavus Adolphus College will celebrate its annual Festival of St. Lucia at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8 in Christ Chapel. As part of this tradition, which is 75 years strong at Gustavus, six sophomore women have been chosen to serve on the Lucia Court. (See photo below.) The ceremony will be live streamed on the Gustavus website. Tickets for the luncheon following in Alumni Hall can be purchased for $25.

The Festival of St. Lucia is a Swedish tradition. According to legend, a maiden appeared in Sweden during a great famine and the winter solstice. Widely believed to be 20-year-old Italian martyr Lucia (killed because she would not renounce her devotion to God), she distributed food and clothing to the needy, becoming a symbol of light to Swedes. Here’s how Gustavus has kept her spirit alive so she continues to be a light for all of us.

In Sweden, during the Festival of St. Lucia, the eldest daughter plays the role of St. Lucia by rising early in the morning to prepare and serve baked goods and coffee to her family. Wearing a crown of lighted candles, Lucia represents the return of light that will end the long winter nights and serves as a symbol of hope and peace for the Christmas season.

St. Lucia Court, 1954.

St. Lucia Court, 1954.

Other facts and customs from Gustavus St. Lucia history:

The Swedish custom of naming a yearly St. Lucia dates to the late 1800s. At Gustavus, it dates to 1941. It was instituted by Miss Alma Hansen, then dean of women.

The Guild of St. Lucia, an honor society for Gustavus senior women, leads the selection process of the Court of St. Lucia. To announce their selections, Guild members search the campus for Court members and surprise them with a rose.

In early years, only blonde Swedish women were allowed on the Court, and only women were allowed to vote for St. Lucia. The Festival began with a cereal breakfast for women—if you found the almond in your bowl, you’d be the next to marry.

St. Lucia Court, 1988

St. Lucia Court, 1988.

Such rules have long been abandoned. Men now vote for their fellow female students. The first African-American member of the Court was Titilope Cole-Adeniyi, in 2000. In 2014, Janet Jennings was elected as the first African-American St. Lucia.

The secret of who will be St. Lucia is painstakingly kept. Only three people know before the rehearsal: the Guild member who tallies the votes, the Chaplain’s secretary who makes the service’s bulletin, and the Chaplain who presides over the Festival service.

The day of the Festival, the Court carols through the dorms beginning at 5 a.m. Residents set out treats—or protest the noise. (Note: singing ability is not a St. Lucia requirement.)

St. Lucia Court, 2000.

St. Lucia Court, 2000.

At the Festival service, the previous year’s St. Lucia retells the tradition. Children from the Gustavus community accompany the Court as star children and a tompten (a Swedish Christmas elf). The Court proceeds through Christ Chapel, with the new St. Lucia leading the way.

The Court used to visit the Twin Cities to serve tea to alumna. Today, the Festival continues with a Swedish luncheon on campus sponsored by the Gustavus Library Associates, where Lucia members can try lutefisk.

The characteristics of Lucia still matter to Gustavus and in the world: courageous leadership, service to others, strength of character, and compassion.

Want to see and learn more? Check out these photos throughout St. Lucia history.


St. Lucia Court, 2016

St. Lucia Court, 2016: (front l to r) Daniella Habib of Providence, R.I., and Emma Myhre of Lake Okoboji, Iowa; (back l to r): Alicia Lhotka of Eden Prairie, Minn., Prabhjot Singh of Rochester, Minn., Elena Gottlick of Rockford, Ill., and Keliyah Perkins of Minneapolis, Minn.




Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad



  1. Toby Johnson '65 says:

    Thanks for keeping the tradition alive. And that comes from a Norwegian.

  2. Jayne arvidson thrasher says:

    Ah yes I remember it well?
    The tradition is still being observed here in Indianapolis. Our Svea lodge makes a big deal out of it with a st. Lucia court, Swedish foods. I usually sing in a small chorus.
    I,myself, have hosted a number of Lucia brunches for my friends and get rave reviews!!??

  3. Mark Juhan Sallmen says:

    I started the Lucia tradition at Wilhelmina Lutheran Church in Canada. The congregation was
    started by hose who moved from Wilhelmina Sweden. I live now in Finland where the Lucia is an
    ongoing tradition.. I am still waiting for the first male Lucia at Gustavus. There are some already in Finland and Sweden.
    The Scandinavian countries are big on equal rights so why not?