Keeping Tradition Lit

By Elise Franco

Lucia Breakfast lives on in 37th year at First Covenant

YOUNGSTOWN — St. Lucia died hundreds of years ago, but her spirit and tradition live on inside the walls of First Covenant Church of Youngstown.

For 37 years, members of First Covenant have hosted the Lucia Breakfast as a way to usher in the Christmas season to community and congregation members.

Legend describes St. Lucia as an Italian girl who brought food to Christians hiding in the catacombs, said Cathy Zimmerman of First Covenant. Lucia wore candles in her hair to light her way.

Lucia was captured, brought to trial and burned at the stake as a Christian martyr in A.D. 304, Zimmerman said.

She said the legend is now celebrated by having the eldest daughter in a Swedish family dress in a white gown, donning a wreath lit with candles.

“Very early in the morning in thousands of Swedish homes, members of the family are awakened by the eldest daughter, who serves them coffee and freshly baked Lucia buns,” Zimmerman said.

That tradition was brought to First Covenant as a way to celebrate St. Lucia as a community, said Beverly Olson, event chairwoman.

“A lot of churches in the country celebrate a Lucia festival,” she said. “It’s something that really brings everyone in the community together.”

Olson said this year’s Lucia Breakfast is on Saturday with three performances, at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Tickets for the breakfast are $7 per person and are still available for the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. performances. They can be purchased by calling First Covenant Church at (330) 758-9753.

“We have the children dress up, and we have Swedish singers,” she said. “And of course, everything is centered around St. Lucia.”

Zimmerman said eight children dress up as the Pepparkokars, or gingerbread cookies, and 18 children are Swedish elves called Tomtars.

Madalyn Smith, 5, of Boardman, is performing in her second Lucia Breakfast as a Pepparkokar.

Her father, Brad Smith, said Madalyn loves being involved.

“We like to involve her in most church activities,” he said. “She’s really outgoing.”

Olson said she likes to see parents involve their children in these types of activities.

“It means, to me, that the faith is continuing throughout, from the very old to the very young,” she said.

The traditional Lucia Breakfast wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from St. Lucia herself, though.

Lauren Gronvall, 18, of Boardman, will make her debut as Lucia, and she said it’s something she’s been waiting for.

“I think I’m just excited about being a part of it,” she said. “I’ve wanted to do this forever. All my friends have played her, and now it’s my turn.”

Gronvall, a freshman at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, said she likes the St. Lucia tradition.

“I think keeping the old tradition alive is important for cultural reasons,” she said. “It also gets the season started.”

Zimmerman said each performance seats about 200 people, who will have the opportunity to taste fruit soup, cheeses and Swedish coffee breads from Great Harvest Bread Co. and Classic Bakery, both of Youngstown.

She said those in attendance will also be able to participate in a silent auction and purchase coffee breads and cookies.

Zimmerman said all the proceeds from the breakfast, bake sale and silent auction are used in support of the Women’s Ministries of the church.

“We send the money back out into the community,” she said.

Zimmerman said in the past money from the breakfast has gone to benefit the Salvation Army, Eagle Heights Academy and Children Services.

More like this from

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.