ST. CLOUD - For 69 years Salem Lutheran Church has continued a Scandinavian tradition that started thousands of years ago.

The Santa Lucia Festival of Lights is a celebration of the legend of a young Italian woman who refused to marry her pagan fiancee. He labeled her a witch and had her burned and killed at the stake. Legend says she has since appeared to many people in times of need.

For many Scandinavians, Lucia is a symbol of light in the darkness. For those who attend the festival, there is no light in the church outside of candles, with the candles representing, Lucia, the light in the darkness.

While the festival has religious beginnings, event co-organizer Julie Johnson says it is also a chance for people to celebrate Scandinavian heritage.

"I think that people enjoy being able to make it here and be a part of the Scandinavian heritage. Salem does a really marvelous job of honoring its Swedish heritage."

One of the best ways to enjoy the Santa Lucia Festival of Lights is through the food. Part of the festival is a traditional Swedish breakfast. Johnson says most of the food is handmade and they have a lot of different options.

"We have potato sausage, oranges, lingenberries, traditional sweet bread, dry bread, and cookies. It is a marvelous breakfast."

The annual event is open to everyone and is free to attend.

Johnson and she co-chair say are already making big plans for the 70th annual event next year.

"We will be doing something special. It's a little far out yet but we will plan on a much larger crowd for next year because we know our 70th year is a big year."

This year's event saw an estimated 225 people attend. Those numbers are fairly large considering the event started as just a few people in the church basement nearly 70 years ago.

The Santa Lucia Festival of Lights is on the Saturday in December that is closest to the 13th.

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