Saint Lucia’s Day is one of the major holidays during the season of Yuletide in Scandinavia. It is the feast of Saint Lucia, a young girl who was martyred for her faith. Like many modern Christmas traditions, however, the story has changed over time, adopting more pagan observances alongside religious ones.
St. Lucia’s Day will be on December 13, 2012 and 2013.
The day of Saint Lucia is an essential part of Christmas in Scandinavia. The young girl, who is often referred to as just “Lucy,” was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her generosity and faithfulness. Her crime was that she would sneak food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. Saint Lucia would wear candles in a wreath on her head so that she would have both of her hands free to carry the food to the people. But to the Christians, forced to live in darkness, she not only provided them with life saving sustenance, she provided them with soul-giving light.
Although it is now celebrated on December 21, the Winter Solstice used to be observed on December 13 according to old ‘Julian’ Calendar. Scandinavia is part of the arctic circle, and as a result has the misfortune of being dark most of the time in winter. On the eve of the solstice, however, the darkest day of the year, a pagan festival of lights was held in Sweden. It was the feast of Saturnalia, the attempt to draw the sun out of its sleeping place. Over time, the traditions which took place in this snow filled wonderland became intermingled with the feast of Saint Lucia. She has become the symbol of light in the darkness, even the name “Lucia” means light.
During the long, dark winter in Scandinavia, it is no wonder that the story of a young light bringer sparks so much joy in so many people. It is a welcome break from the normalcy, and an appreciation that darkness will eventually lift and sunlight will return.
The feast of Saint Lucia is celebrated in a number of ways. Most common are the traditional candle-lit vigils. These are predominately organized by the church, to honor the martyrdom of the young girl who gave so much. These processions begin in the evening on the twelve of December, and end with a prayer service. Sometimes they last all night. There is a traditional Saint Lucia song, sung by women, about how the young girl was able to overcome the darkness and know the light. Each Scandinavian country has their own particular lyrics and adaptation for the song. But the theme remains the same.
But there is a more personal tradition which occurs early in the morning on December 13t. The eldest girl in the family gets the opportunity to play Saint Lucia. She dresses in a pristine white before everyone is awake, and places a garland crown upon her head. In this crown, carefully placed, are several tallow candles – her unusual headdress is similar to the one Saint Lucia would have worn when she descended into the catacombs.
Then she goes into the rooms of each family member, wakes them gently, and then serves them Lucia buns and coffee or mulled wine.
Recipe for Saint Lucia Buns (Lussekatter).
Island of Saint Lucia
There a tiny island in the Caribbean named after its patron saint, St. Lucia, and St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated as their National Day.