Christmas is a time when we really focus on traditions and family. Some of our traditions are based on historical or cultural traditions which go back hundreds of years. One of these traditions is the predominantly Swedish celebration of St. Lucia’s Day.
Since the late 1700’s, St. Lucia’s Day is actually celebrated on December 13th and is considered the start of the Christmas season in Sweden. Like many other holidays, this date was actually a marriage of Christian and Pagan traditions; on the Pagan calendar, December 13th was the Winter Solstice and observed as a festival of lights and Lucy or Lucia in Italian means “light.” St. Lucia was actually a very early Christian who was martyred in 304AD. Her legacy, as recorded by Christian monks, was that she would sneak food into the catacombs in Rome where early Christians were hiding from persecution. She wore a wreath of candles on her head so her hands were free to carry more food. Although now considered a Swedish holiday, Saint Lucy actually lived in Italy and she is the patron saint of Syracuse, a city in Sicily.
Today St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated in not only Sweden, but also Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, Croatia, and Italy. Typically the holiday is observed by the oldest girl from each family dressing in a white gown with a red sash around her waist and a wreath of candles on her head. The wreath is made from Lingonberry branches which symbolize new life in winter. Girls younger than twelve use electric candles in their wreaths. However, in Denmark and parts of Italy, St. Lucia’s Day is considered a children’s holiday; children in these areas leave out sandwiches for St. Lucia and her donkey, and she leaves them gifts.
The St. Lucia celebration is not merely a family celebration – schools, towns, and some villages chose a girl to play St. Lucia in parades and processions, singing carols, telling stories about St. Lucia, and handing out Pepparkakor, ginger snap cookies. Another popular St. Lucia Day treat is Lussekatts, saffron flavored buns with raisins, which are eaten for breakfast.
Although the observances of St. Lucia day vary from country to country, the important thing is that we remember who St. Lucia was and that she died for her love and belief in Christ. No matter our nationality, maybe we can all take a moment to remember Saint Lucia and her devotion to Jesus Christ, who is the Reason for the Season. Merry Christmas!