The Santa Lucia Festival of Lights, a Scandinavian tradition, has been celebrated in Astoria since 1978
Americans banish winter blues by staring into superwatt bulbs. In Scandinavia, people have another cure. They put candles in their hair and light them.
It may seem like a death-defying circus act, but Swedes have been wearing candles for more than 1,000 years to celebrate Santa Lucia's martyrdom.
Some 24 years ago, the Festival of Lights was resurrected in Astoria. Luckily, the fire marshal hates the smell of burning hair, so candles will be electric.
The event has been Americanized, of course. It's traditionally celebrated around Dec. 13, but in Astoria, the event is always the day after Thanksgiving.
"A lot of the young people were home from college for Thanksgiving," said Maureen Sundstrom, an Astoria resident who helped organize the first festival.
The event began as a way to meet with friends and toast the Christmas season. Jennifer Lacy will be the Lucia Bride this year. Lucia's attendants will be members of the Astoria Midsummer Festival court Sarah Seeborg, Katie Lane and Elizabeth Arnall.
"It will be kind of sad because its our last event as a court," said Lacy, who was selected as the runner-up for Miss Scandinavia in June.
Although she boasts both Swedish and Danish ancestry, Lacy represented Denmark in the Midsummer Festival court. The new Scandinavian Festival court will be introduced at the Festival of Lights.
Lacy said the event officially begins the Christmas season for her.
"I've done stuff with my family since I was knee high to a grasshopper," said Lacy, a freshman at Clatsop Community College.
"I really like the dancing around the Christmas tree," Lacy said. "It doesn't matter if you've got the steps. You just kind of go with the flow."
Dancing like chickensYoung students of Astoria's Viking-Nordic Dancers were definitely going with the flow as they practiced for the festival at John Jacob Astor Elementary one Nov-ember evening.
In dancing there's always the competition between the beat in the music and the beat in the dancer's mind. After a few weeks without rehearsals, the beat in the young dancers' minds seemed to be winning.
"The one thing I can tell you guys, is you're not very crisp looking," director Bonnie Ladd urged the youngest dancing group as she showed them the moves. "Step, da-dumdumdum, curtsey or bow, da-dumdumdum, turn, dadumdumdum, hands, dadumdumdum."
Ladd directs the dancers with her husband David Ladd and Bev Hoofnagle. As she drilled the dancers, they became taut and the beat in the music began to prevail.
For 8-year-old Spencer Percey, enthusiasm makes up for any dancing steps he may not have. Spencer began dancing this year, and he's already twirling his partner Jodi Vollmer, 7, around the dance floor.
Spencer's two older brothers participate in the dancing. His mom Sandra Percey has already informed them that dancing is an asset.
"You're never gonna stop dancing," Percey said. "Because the girls are gonna find out you know how to dance, and they'll never leave you alone."
Spencer begged his mom to let him dance. This year he will participate as a Star boy, a sort of ring bearer as the Lucia Bride and her attendants process at the beginning of the Festival of Lights. Other star boys will Caleb Cunningham, Eddie Phillips and Olli Nauha.
Spencer doesn't mind the tall pointy hat and the star wand he will don for the procession. But he can't wait for his favorite event - the chicken dance, a limb flailing staple at any Scandinavian event in Astoria.
Processions in timeThe chicken dance may not pack the historical punch that the Festival of Lights does.
Scandinavian seamen or missionaries shared the legend of a girl from Sicily who gave all of her possessions to the poor after learning of the selflessness of early Christians, according to research compiled by Lynette Vollmer, publicity coordinator for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival Association. Lucia was betrothed to a wealthy nobleman, who called her actions a foolish obsession. She would not relent and was arrested. She escaped death twice but was eventually assassinated with a magic sword.
Some believe the Swedish incorporated Lucia into a pre-existing holiday around the winter solstice honoring Freya, the pagan goddess of light. The Santa Lucia celebrations began in western Sweden and spread throughout the country. It is observed in most schools, hospitals and offices.
In Sweden, the oldest daughter in each household plays the Lucia. Balancing a wreath of real candles, she brings her family Lussekatter saffron buns and coffee.
Some 1,700 years after Lucia lived, Astoria began celebrating its event. In 1978, Pivi TerHar played the first Lucia bride for a group of people n the steps;of the Astoria Post Office on the day after Thanksgiving.
For a few years, people would congregate and serenade downtown business owners who stayed open late for the festivities. But dreary and drippy weather soon sent the celebrants indoors. After several years at the Elks ballroom, people moved the swelling crowds to the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.
Each year 500 or 600 people attend the event, which includes an invocation by the Rev. Bill Brooks and singing and dancing around a Christmas tree, organizer Nettie Blair said.
"It kind of just all falls into place," Blair said.
If you go ...The 2002 Festival of Lights will take place 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29 at Clatsop County Fairgrounds, 92937 Walluski Loop. The Festival Association will ask for a $1 donation upon entrance. The donations will help fund next year's $500 scholarship. This year's scholarship winner will also be announced at the festival. The VASA Lodge will serve refreshments.