Portland church ‘queen’ follows mother’s footsteps

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PORTLAND — Twenty-five years after her mother was crowned the first queen of light at St. Ansgar Lutheran Church, Paige Marchand had the same honor.

During a special Festival of St. Lucia held at the Rosemont neighborhood church Sunday, Marchand took on the role of the saint, who was martyred by the Romans in 304 A.D.

Marchand, who will turn 14 on Dec. 21, is an eighth-grader at Gorham Middle School, where she plays soccer and runs track.

She described herself as being “into sciency things,” saying while math “is OK, social studies and English are boring.”

Marchand is the oldest child of Nancy Frie, who was St. Ansgar’s first Lucia in 1992.

Frie was a sophomore at Deering High School at the time and doesn’t remember exactly how she was chosen, other than that her family was active in the church, somebody asked her to participate, and she agreed.

Frie said the ceremonial crowning a Lucia hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. In fact, the church is still using the original costumes and silver coffee service.

The process has become somewhat more formalized, though, and the oldest teen girl in the congregation is usually crowned.

However, because it was the 25th anniversary and because Frie was the very first Lucia, Marchand was able to play the role she’s coveted for at least the past six years.

“From the time I was 5, I’ve watched all the other girls do it and I wanted to do it, too,” she said.

Marchand’s younger sister, Haley Frie, 11, was also a part of this year’s festival. She was one of Lucia’s attendants, who all dress in white and carry candles.

“It’s a neat tradition,” Marchand said, adding what makes the festival special is that “it’s not just members of the church that come.”

Marchand is also fond of the Scandinavian treats that get served as part of the Festival of St. Lucia. Those include ginger snaps and sweet buns that are shaped like curled-up cats with raisin eyes.

Marchand said she enjoys attending St. Ansgar’s, where she is a fourth-generation member. If she’s still living in Southern Maine, she said, Marchand would eventually like her own daughter to take part in the festival and also be crowned the queen of light.

Frie said not all Lutheran churches hold a Festival of St. Lucia, and “it really depends on the tradition and make-up of the church.”

Her great-grandparents emigrated to Portland from Sweden, where the festival is held on Dec. 13 and is celebrated by nearly everyone.

Frie said St. Ansgar’s used to hold its St. Lucia festival closer to the traditional date, but a few years ago it was moved to be held on the same weekend as the church’s annual holiday fair.

As a parishioner her entire life, Frie’s been actively involved in the St. Lucia festival for years, “dressing the girls and working behind the scenes.” But this year, as the mother of the queen of light, “I don’t have to do anything else but enjoy it,” she said.

Sylvia Sodergren Carr, who’s been a member of St. Ansgar’s for the past 40 years, was one of the originators of the festival, along with her niece, Carol Sodergren, Barbara Lundgren and Elsie Lindblom. The crown that’s still used today was a gift of Lindblom’s, and Carr’s husband, Jay, made the hats still worn by the star boys.

“It was four of us Swedes who suggested it,” Carr recalled. “It’s just wonderful that it’s still going 25 years later, (especially because) we didn’t know so much what we were doing that first time.”

Carr said she hopes the tradition will continue, but “for that to happen we have to have enough young people” involved in the life of the church at 515 Woodford St.

In welcoming festival attendees Sunday, the Rev. Maria Anderson-Lippert said that St. Lucia was “a symbol of light and hope,” and the ceremony held in her honor “begins the season of feasting, merriment, singing and goodwill” that leads up to Christmas and New Year.

St. Lucia was born in Sicily; it’s unclear how her legend traveled.

Instead of marrying, Lucia asked her mother if she could use her dowry to help the poor and hungry. Apparently it was her jilted bridegroom who denounced her to the Romans for giving aid to Christians, and she was put to death.

Other stories associated with Lucia say  she was the patron saint of sailors, and her figure was seen on the prow of ships carrying much-needed food to a starving populace.

Overall, she’s known for “bringing light and hope in the darkest of times,” according to materials provided by St. Ansgar’s church.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Nancy Frie, left, and her daughter, Paige Marchand, have both played the role of St. Lucia at St. Ansgar’s Church in Portland. Marchand was crowned the queen of light Sunday, Dec. 3, 25 years after her mother had the same honor.

Paige Marchand proceeds from the sanctuary after being crowned the queen of light and being handed the traditional silver coffee service at St. Ansgar’s Church in Portland.

Paige Marchand, left, with Sylvia Sodergren Carr, one of the founders of the Festival of St. Lucia at St. Ansgar’s Church in Portland. For the past 25 years Carr has always been the one to tie the red ribbon around Lucia’s waist.

Paige Marchand, center, and her attendants during St. Ansgar’s 25th annual Festival of St. Lucia on Sunday, Dec. 3.

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