This year, let us start with a Christmas tradition from Sweden – St. Lucia Day or Festival of Light. Its interesting and fun to learn about customs from other countries. It might inspire you to introduce a new tradition to your family.
Christmas in Sweden kicks off with a tradition derived from Italy
With the Christmas season upon us, we want to share the feeling of joy and anticipation with those around us. It always seems that during the holidays, the world hits the pause button and allows us to forget about the issues that divide us and focus on the things that connect us – God, family, friends, and the traditions we share.
One special Christmas tradition that people in Sweden have celebrated since the late 1700s — and since has been adopted in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia — is St. Lucia’s Day. This holiday, also known as the festival of lights, is observed on December 13th. On that day, Scandinavians honor Italian Saint Lucy, one of the earliest Christian martyrs, with a procession of young girls dressed in white with red sash belts, wearing lighted wreaths on their heads. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden.
The Life of St. Lucia
St. Lucia was the patron saint of the city of Syracuse, Sicily. In 283 AD, Lucy was born into a wealthy family in Sicily. According to legend, she cared for persecuted Christians in Rome by bringing food to those hiding in the catacombs under the city. It is said she lit her way with candles on her head, keeping her hands free to carry goods. Interestingly, the name Lucy is derived from the Latin word lux, meaning “light”.
Although this tradition has been celebrated for centuries, much about Lucy’s life remains unknown. As the legend is told, she dedicated herself to Christianity, giving up her wealth and rejecting marriage. An angry suitor reported her to the local Roman authorities. Despite the Roman authorities’ best efforts to punish Lucy, they were prevented from doing so by what many believe was divine intervention. Ultimately the persistent authorities succeeded in their efforts, though, and she lost her life in 304 at age 21.
How it became an Annual Holiday
St. Lucia’s story originates in Italy. It made its way north during the Middle Ages and became part of Swedish traditions when Sweden adopted Christianity. The festival of lights on St. Lucia’s Day symbolizes bringing the light of Christ into the darkness during the longest nights and darkest days of Sweden’s winter.
In a Swedish Family
To celebrate this tradition, the eldest girl in a Swedish family will dress up as St. Lucia in a white robe with a red sash, symbolizing the blood of her martyrdom. Wearing an evergreen wreath crown with candles on it, she will serve her family coffee and baked goods, such as saffron bread (lussekatter) and ginger biscuits.
Please comment below with your favorite Christmas traditions!