Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. And by celebrating its ¬ethnic heritage, the city’s Swedish-American Museum helps define its North Side neighborhood—and with it, the larger regional com¬munity comprising Chicago and its suburbs. This was the case on a warm Saturday evening in December as the museum—and the diverse communities it serves—celebrated the feast of Saint Lucy, or Sankta Lucia as she is known in Swedish.
In the gathering twilight a dozen “Lucia girls,” wearing long white gowns and bearing candles, lined up in front of the museum, 5211 N. Clark St., while family and friends crowded the sidewalk. St. Lucy, or Lucia, was an early Christian martyr from Sicily, but the annual celebration of her name day in Andersonville is purely Swedish-American. Led by a girl wearing candles in her hair, the Lucia girls proceeded up Clark past a feminist bookstore called Women & Children First, the Ander¬sonville Galleria boutique mall, Andie’s Café Mediterraneo, Reza’s Mediter¬ranean and Persian restaurant, a hardware store, a shoe store, a UPS outlet, a coffee shop and boutique called Kopi Café, and Calo Ristorante, once a pizza place and now an upscale Italian restaurant. Crossing the street at Balmoral Avenue and pausing to sing Swedish carols, the girls wound back down the street past the Swedish Bakery, Lady Gregory’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, Erickson’s Deli, a dance school, a yoga studio and other upscale businesses, and back to the museum. As the girls passed by outside its large plate glass window, Svea Restaurant was packed with ¬customers ordering Swedish meatballs, lutfisk or a special Christmas platter of pork sausage, potato baloney, and pickled herring. In fact, business was booming in all of Andersonville’s restaurants.
Back at the museum, the Lucia girls presented their musical program again—singing in confident, well-rehearsed Swedish—to a standing-room-only crowd in a ground-floor gallery space and meeting room. The evening concluded with a Sankta Lucia Service at Ebenezer Lutheran Church on Foster Avenue, founded by Swedish immigrants in 1892. “Ebenezer serves an extremely diverse, multicultural community in the 21st century, but this Swedish heritage event brings us together as a community,” said Ebe¬nezer’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Fick. The service was all about community. Fick’s homily was on a traditional Advent theme of waiting for light to appear in the darkness. It was followed by Swedish hymns of the season—sung in Swedish—and performances by the Nordic Folk Dancers, the Swedish-American mixed choir Merula, and the Chicago Swedish Men’s Chorus. This service capped off a Festival of Lights that had begun the day before, downtown at the Richard J. Daley Center. When the Lucia girls from Ander¬sonville sang at the Daley Center, they were part of an “Under the Picasso” program that featured German Christmas songs by kids from Frederic Chopin Elementary School in the East Hum¬boldt Park neighborhood; “sounds of the season” by singers from Holy Family Ministries in Lawn¬dale on the far West Side; a winter showcase of dance, theater, jazz, and vocal arts by students in the Chicago public schools’ Advanced Arts Program citywide; and ensemble caroling by the Circuit Court of Cook County Office Choir, among others. If the Sankta Lucia procession on North Clark Street is a reminder of Andersonville’s ethnic heritage, the festivities at the Daley Center are an ongoing reminder that Chicago is a city of diverse neighborhoods. And in the case of Andersonville, the neighborhood’s Swedish heritage gives its business district a focal point.