St. Lucia’s Day, celebrated on Dec. 13, brings me fond memories of dressing up in a white gown with a candle-wreath on my head and carrying a tray of sweet treats to distribute.
The day is often celebrated in Europe and by Scandinavian Americans. One story of the history behind the celebration is that St. Lucia, during oppression by a Roman emperor, helped Christians who were hiding due to religious discrimination.
To deliver supplies to them inside the catacombs she wore on her head a wreath with candles on it in order to carry more food. According to history, she was martyred in 310 AD for her beliefs.
St. Lucia’s Day coincided with the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar, the shortest day of the year, and is looked at as a festival of light bringing in the Christmas season.
When many Scandinavians became Christians, St. Lucia’s story had great meaning due to the celebration of light in a country quite dark in the wintertime. Scandinavian countries first observed St. Lucia’s Day in the middle ages. The name Lucia is based on the Latin word lux, that means light in English.
Although St. Lucia was not Swedish, the country is highly connected to the celebration because of the tradition, sprung from the 18th century, of the eldest daughter dressed in a white robe with a candle-wreath on her head singing Lucia lyrics and bringing Lucia buns and coffee to her father and mother. She wore white to symbolize baptism and a red sash to honor St. Lucia’s martyrdom.
Today in Sweden, regional Lucias are appointed to sing and pass out cookies in public places.
This tradition traces its roots back to Stockholm’s 1927 official Lucia, who was chosen by a newspaper. St. Lucia is also celebrated in other Scandinavian countries and in Italy, where St. Lucia was really from.
In Minnesota, St. Lucia is celebrated in places and churches with a Scandinavian-Christian history. Scandia and the Gammelgarden Museum hosted a Lucia celebration Dec. 9. There is a Swedish prayer service in an 1856 immigrant church and a Scandinavian breakfast with a Lucia processional choir.
Though I am not Swedish, but Norwegian, as a child I was able to be a Lucia complete with candle-wreath for a Swedish Smorgasbord in Minneapolis. (Don’t worry, the flames today are electronic, operated by heavy batteries.)
I also gave out treats to my relatives at their home. If you’re Scandinavian or Italian, and even if you’re not, letting your daughter be a Lucia around the holidays is a great way for her to learn the honor of serving. It’s not just a holiday for Swedes. It’s a holiday for anyone who wants to celebrate the light and hope of Christmas.
Silpakorn University in Bangkok Thailand, founded by an Italian, has a Lucia song as its anthem. A Lucia song was first written in the Neapolitan language, expressing a reminder of the peace St. Lucia’s life can inspire among those who travel the seas. Here is an English take:
“Now ‘neath the silver moon Ocean is glowing,
O’er the calm billows, soft winds are blowing.
Here balmy breezes blow, pure joys invite us,
And as we gently row, all things delight us.
Hark, how the sailor’s cry joyously echoes nigh:
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Home of fair Poesy, realm of pure harmony,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!”
Sara Marie Moore is editor of the Shoreview Press and Vadnais Heights Press. She can be reached at 651-407-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.