Ancient tradition at Joliet church on Sunday brings hope for ‘dark times.’

Lucia Fest is the forerunner to the Christmas holiday in Swedish culture.

Cyan Bradley, the daughter of Jake and Renae Bradley of Plainfield, will portray Santa Lucia at the Church of the Good Shepherd Evangelical Covenant, 2437 Plainfield Road, Joliet, at approximately noon, Sunday, Dec. 11, following the 10:45 a.m. worship service.

Walking with a head of fire is not for the fainthearted.

But Cyan Bradley, 16, of Plainfield will wear a crown of lighted candles Sunday at the Church of Good Shepherd Evangelical Covenant in Joliet. It’s part of her portrayal of St. Lucia and this Swedish custom.

Lucia Fest is the forerunner to the Christmas holiday in Swedish culture.

And while some churches now replace the candles on the wreath with battery-powered ones, Cyan will wear the real thing.

“I’m a little nervous walking with fire but I’m really excited,” Bradley said. “I’ve grown up with it. It really shows the origins of our church, which is Swedish.”

When Jake Bradley, Cyan’s father and lead pastor at the Church of Good Shepherd Evangelical Church, came to the 150-year-old church as a youth pastor 20 years ago, he said his reaction was, “What have I gotten myself into?”

But he now he appreciates Lucia Fest and “all the different ways it can encourage us to love our communities.”

“It’s a beautiful tradition and we try not to make a dead tradition, to do it just for old times’ sake,” he said. “I think there can be some deeper meaning.”

Up until the 1940s, the Church of Good Shepherd Evangelical Covenant was a Swedish-speaking church, Jake Bradley said. Then it was bilingual for another 10 to 20 years before it completely switched to English, he said.

But having a major faith expression tied to a country of origin can serve a second purpose: welcoming people from heritages into the church, Jake Bradley said.

“[They might think], ‘Look how they honor their immigrant heritage. This might be a safe place for me to find a new home,’ ” Jake Bradley said.

St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, was an early Christian saint martyred in the fourth century.Her feast day is celebrated Dec. 13. According to the Julian Calendar (the current Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian in 1582), Dec. 13 was the shortest day of the year.

According to tradition, St. Lucy wore a wreath of candles to light her way when bringing food to Christians in hiding. She was to marry a rich nobleman, but she gave her dowery to the poor instead. So she was killed.

St. Lucy returned hundreds of years later in December during a time of famine and fed the poor.

“So I do think there’s something beautiful about caring for those in these times – the literally cold and dark times,” Jake Bradley said.

For people living in this post-COVID-19-pandemic era, with rising uncertainty about the economy, it’s good to know “there can be light on the other side,” he said.

“I think it’s a beautiful story worth celebrating,” Jake Bradley said. “Yes, it is a bit pomp and circumstance – all the girls dress up – but I think sometimes those things are important reminders. [It’s] a very strong visual thing. I think we need those visual reminders, that there is hope in the darkest of times, that there is going to be light at the other end of it, and to know that darkness doesn’t win even when it seems really, really dark.”

Jake Bradley said the church has inside jokes about keeping a bucket of water near the front of the church and a couple of firefighters in the pews, just in case. But to his earlier multicultural point, the Santa Lucia festival allows everyone present to hear a song sung in Swedish.

It also allows Cyan to master the phrase, “The table is ready,” in Swedish, thanks to a 95-year-old member of the church, Martha Skoien, who helped tweak Cyan’s pronunciation.

Skoien, who came to the U.S. when she was 5 years old, met with Cyan on FaceTime to help her out, Jake Bradley said.

“We call her [Skoien} ‘Our Eternal Lucia Queen,’” Jake Bradley said.

Cyan is a sophomore honor student at Plainfield Central High School. She competes in cross country and track. She enjoys theatre and has performed in several musicals, including “Seussical,” “Willy Wonka” and “Beauty and the Beast.” She participates in the church’s youth group and volunteers in the nursery. She plans to study nursing, according to the church.

Lucia Fest will take place at noon Sunday, following the 10:45 a.m. worship service. Traditional Swedish pastries and coffee will be served.

The Church of the Good Shepherd Evangelical Covenant is located at 2437 Plainfield Road in Joliet. People may also participate via livestream or a recorded video on its Facebook page.

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