By Nancy Madsen firstname.lastname@example.org|
Tyra Banks,a Liberian native hadn’t heard of the Festival of St. Lucia until the Liberian native began attending Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, last year.
This year, Banks, a sophomore, was named Lucia.
“It was so overwhelming,” she said. “To have people look at me as an inspiration and to see that light in me. Being a Gustie is great.”
The festival, which is traditionally held on Dec. 13, marks the beginning of the Swedish Christmas season and stems from a Swedish legend about an Italian saint and martyr who appeared on the shore of Värmland during a great Swedish famine. A chapel service on Thursday marked the college’s 78th annual Festival of St. Lucia.
According to the legend, the woman, who was clothed in white and crowned with light, distributed food and clothing to the needy. Wearing a crown of lighted candles, Lucia is intended to represent the return of light that end the long winter nights and serves as a symbol of hope and peace for the Christmas season.
It became a Swedish tradition by the late 1800s that a household’s eldest daughter play Lucia, bringing baked goods and coffee to her family while wearing a crown of candles.
Classmates nominate six sophomore women to the court, who are selected based on service to others, strength of character, courageous leadership, and compassion. A campus-wide vote names the selection for Lucia. The woman to fill the role finds out the night before as each member of the court holds an unlit candle. One candle, held by the festival’s Lucia, is lit.
Banks, this year’s Lucia, said she was speechless when she opened her eyes to see the candle in her hands burning.
She was surprised at the weight and small size of the candle-bearing wreath and told the court she got some hot wax on her scalp. But the experience, from caroling with the court to being called “Lucia,” has been special.
“To have people recognize me as a light is cool,” she said.
Banks, of Brooklyn Park, immigrated to the U.S. at age 13. Banks is a biology major and classics minor; she is also a member of the track and field team, Campus Activities Board, Pan-African Student Organization, mentoring program, and pre-health club.
The other members of the court this year were Ellie Croonquist, of New Hope; Holly Fitterer, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Signe Jeremiason, of St. Peter; Meg Nipe, of Burnsville, and Kristie Olson, of Edina.