Santa Lucia is a Swedish Christmas celebration steeped in legend and tradition. This article describes the legend of Santa Lucia and explains how it is celebrated.
The Swedish Christmas tradition of Santa Lucia is celebrated in many forms throughout the Scandinavian countries. It is also celebrated in many places throughout the United States, especially where there are large populations of Swedish descendents. The legend of Santa Lucia and the holiday that followed is but one of many unique ways in which people of the world celebrates the Christmas holiday.
Santa Lucia Legend
There are several versions of the legend of Santa Lucia but the oldest legend dates back to 304 A.D. A young woman from a noble Christian family named Lucia had dedicated her life to helping those in poverty. During a terrible famine in Sweden this woman is said to have appeared on the lake in a large white ship bearing food and clothing for the starving population. She was dressed in all white with a wreath of twigs lit up upon her head. It is said that later she was persecuted for being a Christian and burned at the stake. Her body would not burn and she glowed with light as she died. She became a Christian martyr and from then on was known as the great patron saint of light.
Celebrating Santa Lucia
The celebration of Santa Lucia begins each December 13th and is also known as the festival of lights. In old tradition every village would choose a young woman to represent Santa Lucia. On the morning of December 13th wearing a white dress with a red sash and a wreath of lingonberry twigs with seven candles set upon it she would go from farm to farm bringing baked goods and return home before dawn.
The lighting of the candles on her headpiece symbolizes welcoming light during the darkest time of the year. Centuries ago when the Santa Lucia celebration first began the calendar date of December 13th was the shortest day of the year, also known as winter solstice. The celebration of Santa Lucia celebrates the beginning of change and longer and warmer days.
Today families celebrate Santa Lucia by having a daughter in the household dress as Santa Lucia and bring coffee and saffron buns to each member of the family before dawn. This is sometimes done while singing the song of Santa Lucia.
Many communities also celebrate this beginning of the holiday season by electing a new Santa Lucia Queen and attendants each year. The young woman and her young attendants serve coffee and pastries to those attending the festival.
Santa Lucia is a beautiful celebration steeped in legend and tradition that has been carried down throughout the centuries for all to enjoy.