Today, December the 13th, is the day of Saint Lucia.

Lucia was a noble maiden who lived in Syracuse on Sicily between 283 and 304 AD. She was very beautiful and had many admirers, but she had decided to give her life to the Christian God and refused all suitors. One legend says she used her dowry to buy food which she smuggled to Christians who where hiding from the Roman persecutors in dark underground tunnels. To light her way she wore a wreath of candles on her head.

Another legend says that when a young man commented upon the beauty of her eyes, Lucia pulled them out and gave them to him on a silver plate. A rather drastic way of telling somebody off, but even if it's not true, it does tell a bit about Lucia's strength and dedication in the worst time in history of Roman persecution of Christians.

Yet another legend - in parts the most reliable - says her mother had been healed from a severe sickness by praying with her daughter beside the grave of St. Agatha (who had been killed by the Romans 52 years previously), and this made Lucia give her dowry to the poor in gratitude. When her fiancée heard about this, he reported her to the Roman authorities. She was first sentenced to live as a prostitute "to take that blasted Holy Spirit out of her", but when the Roman soldiers came to take her away, she couldn't be moved - "but God rendered her immovable, so that the guards were not able to carry her thither. He also made her an over-match for the cruelty of the persecutors, in overcoming fire and other torments." (St. Aldehelm, 7th century AD) They brought out a sword and pierced out her eyes, but she grew new eyes - even more beautiful. After a long and glorious combat she died on the 13th of December 304 AD in prison of the wounds she had received.

Lucia (or Lucy in English) was canonized some time in the 6th century AD. She is the patron saint of the town of Syracuse, of fishermen, and of the blind.

In Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden, Lucia is widely celebrated as the Bringer of Light - a tradition loosely based on Christmas rites brought into the country by German Protestants in the 17th century. These rites had nothing to do with the saint originally, but was a Protestant replacement of the Catholic feast of St. Nicolas. A young maiden representing baby Jesus came with gifts to the children. There was already a firm Christmas tradition surrounding the old Swedish "tomte" (similar to the helpful Irish brownie), who had more in common with St. Nicolas than with the German maiden, so this tradition didn't last long in Sweden. During the 18th century, after an apparition of the saint had been seen repeatedly over the lake of Vänern, the feast of the maiden was moved from Christmas to the 13th of December, and the day of Saint Lucy.

How Lucia is celebrated today stems partly from a beauty contest arranged by a Swedish newspaper in the twenties. On the morning of the 13th a young girl previously elected is dressed up as Lucia in a white gown with a red sash, and with a crown of lit candles on her head. Followed by all her handmaids and some boys called star lads, all carrying lit candles in their hands, she goes from house to house (or just into her parent's bedroom with her younger siblings as star lads and handmaids) singing songs dedicated to Lucia, and offering coffee or mulled wine with almonds and raisins, saffron buns, and gingerbread cookies. To be chosen to be the Lucia of the year (nationally or at the local school or kindergarten) is something almost all Swedish girls dream of. Tradition says Lucia has to be blue-eyed and fair (probably to emphasize the light she brings), but recently many dark girls have been given the honour, which is just right.

"God jul" is Swedish for "Merry Christmas"

Santa Lucia, thy light is glowing
Through darkest winter night, comfort bestowing.
Dreams float on dreams tonight,
Comes then the morning light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.
From the Lucia song

"There are few Lucys nowadays among Christian ladies,
because sensuality, pride, and vanity are instilled into their minds by
the false maxims and pernicious example of those with
whom they first converse. Alas I unless a constant watchfulness and restraint
both produce and strengthen good habits, the inclinations of our souls lean
of their own accord toward corruption."
St. Aldehelm, 7th century AD


Lucia graphics by unknown
text copyright © 2001 Line Gisnås

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