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St. Lucia - A Scandinavian Celebration

December Holidays
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St. Lucia is honored across the world each December for her Christian martyrdom and the light she has come to symbolize at this dark time of the year. Since the late 18th century, St. Lucia Day has been celebrated on December 13 in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Italy, Bosnia, and Croatia, as well as among Scandinavian populations across the globe. In the old Julian calendar, the Winter Solstice (a pagan festival marking the shortest day of the year) also fell on December 13, and so the two are believed to be closely related. Indeed, St. Lucia Day places much emphasis on the veneration of light, with the traditional St. Lucia crown of candles made from evergreen branches symbolizing new life in the heart of winter.

Who Was St. Lucia?

There are many uncorroborated stories surrounding the sainthood of Lucia from Sicily. Like all Christian saints, she was killed for her faith at a time in history when Christianity was a crime and those who believed were widely persecuted. Legends have her giving her entire dowry to a Christian family in need and secretly bringing food to Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome. Stories of her death claim that the Romans were unable to kill her until she was finally given the Christian sacrament.

St. Lucia Day Traditions

In Sweden, St. Lucia is honored every December through processions and good works. Typically, a girl is chosen to wear a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. She then leads a procession wherein carols are sung that describe how St. Lucia overcame the darkness and found the light. Each family also has their own St. Lucia, whose job is to bring each family member St. Lucia Day buns for breakfast: a traditional sweet bread flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins. A national St. Lucia is also annually chosen, and various “Lucias” spend the day visiting hospitals, the elderly, and others who are less fortunate, bringing them traditional Swedish ginger snap biscuits and other treats.

Variations of this traditional Swedish celebration are found elsewhere in the world. For instance, Denmark’s celebrations are primarily focused on children, with most events taking place within the schools. Whereas for Norway, St. Lucia Day is more of a secular event. In Italy, St. Lucia brings the children presents on December 13, and children traditionally leave out food for her and her flying donkey.

The celebration of St. Lucia has become an integral part of the December holidays in many parts of the world, particularly in Scandinavia. For many, she provides a beautiful bridge between the enduring honoring of the Solstice and the coming celebration of Christmas to follow.

Find local St. Lucia Day Resources

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