Mythical Monday: The Traditions of Saint Lucia’s Day

It’s December 1st, and the month of Christmas is upon us! I get seriously jazzed at this time of year. Between the feeling of goodwill that seems to pervade everything, the festivities of the coming holidays, sharing with family, remembering old traditions, and soaking up the holiness of this beautiful month, it’s hard to remain low-key.

Today, for Mythical Monday, I’m focusing on an old holiday, Saint Lucia’s Day, the Festival of Lights which is celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and Swedish-speaking parts of Finland. Commemorated on December 13th, it is the date which marked the winter solstice in early calendars.  When the solstice moved to the 21st, the date remained as the beginning of Christmas in Sweden and Norway.

Photo courtesy N_Creatures (L1140287) [CC-BY-2.0 creative commons license], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy N_Creatures (L1140287) [CC-BY-2.0 creative commons license], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s rumored that on the eve of the day, the lucky might glimpse Lucia herself, skimming across winter-white snowfields and frozen lakes, a crown of light on her flowing hair. In many towns, torchlight processions were held to summon and rekindle the luminance that had faded with the encroaching winter.

Rising early, young maidens adorned in white robes with wreaths of holly and candles upon their heads would take food to their sleeping elders.

Of Sicilian origin, it is believed St. Lucia met a fiery death in A.D. 310 when she refused to recant her Christianity. According to legend, she encountered an angel when visiting the shrine of Saint Agnes while seeking a cure for her mother’s long-term illness. Moved by the experience, she became a devout Christian, refusing to denounce her beliefs even in the face of Roman prosecution. Burned at the stake, she continued to speak her beliefs as the fire consumed her. One soldier stuck a spear through her throat to silence her, but the grisly injury had no effect. She died only when given the Christian sacrament.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, a girl is elected to portray St. Lucia on her feast day of December 13th. Dressed in white with a red sash (the sign of martyrdom), she leads a procession of other women, a crown of candles on her head. These symbolize the fire that refused to consume St. Lucia at the stake.

It is believed that celebrating St. Lucia’s Day will help one live with plenty of light through the long winter ahead.

6 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Traditions of Saint Lucia’s Day

  1. Such beautiful traditions and beliefs all over the world. What a pity it’s linked to a tragic fate, that of Lucia’s horrible death because she refused to give up her belief, faith!
    Aren’t humans even more cruel than the other species? Never heard of such cruelty, of forcing on others your will in monkeys, let’s say. I choose the monkey as Darwin says it’s our ancestor. No greediness, no betrayal, divorcees or crimes in monkeys world. No private coconut tree, no terrorists, no mafia..
    Well, may Lucia bring light along your path this winter!
    Carmen
    http://shadowspastmystery.blogspot.ro/

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    • Hi, Carmen! It is a tragic tale, isn’t it, and yet inspiring too for those who remember and honor Lucia’s sacrifice. I’d never actually heard of this celebration before but found it enthralling nonetheless. Yes, what a wonderful world we would have if we but lived in peace. I suppose until that happens, we will have holidays and celebrations that remind us to aspire to all that is good. Thanks so much for visiting!

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    • I love candles too, and burn them all year, but they have a special glow and warmth during autumn and winter. A lovely point that St. Lucia lights the way through the darkness despite the tragedy of her death. It’s wonderful that so many still remember her and celebrate her life!

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    • I love Christmas too. I turn into such a sentimental sap for the entire month of December. Despite attempting to hold onto goodwill throughout the year, there is something magical about December where that spirit is magnified tenfold. Like you, I love histories and legends and learning about traditions in other cultures. Saint Lucia was a new discovering for me!

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