Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Lucia December 13

Santa Lucia is celebrated all over Sweden and in Norway on December 13th. 
Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) is actually a 4th century Italian Saint. She was born to a wealthy Sicilian family. When she rejected a Pagan suitor, he turned her into Roman authorities who sent her to be a prostitute in a Brothel. According to Legend, she was saved by divine intervention and could not be moved. Next she was sentenced to be burned, but the flames could not consume her. Finally her neck was pierced by sword and she died on December 13, 304 AD. There are also stories of her eyes being put out and in some artistic portrayals she is carrying her eyes in a dish.

References to her are found in early Roman sacramentaries and at Syracuse in an inscription dating from AD 400. As evidence of her early fame, 2 churches are known to have been dedicated to her in Britain before the 8th century, at a time when the land was largely pagan.

How Lucia came to be known in Sweden

Lucia means "light" and Santa Lucia became associated with Light. During the Roman persecutions, Lucia is said to have carried food to the poor in dark tunnels, wearing a wreath of candles on her head. Lucia became a symbol of light to people in northern countries where winter brought short dark days. During the Middle Ages, there was a terrible famine in the province of Varmland. Just when it looked like the town would starve to death, a ship appeared with food, and a vision of Santa Lucia in white with a wreath of light around her head. Lucia has been loved in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries since then.


On December 13, the eldest daughter awakens early and prepares a special breakfast. She dons a white dress with a red sash, a wreath of candles and leading the other children in the family, brings the food while singing a song to the other adults in the family.
When I went to California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, we had a Christmas Tradition, we would elect a woman who best showed the Christian ideals of Santa Lucia, and during a ceremony that included a Christmas Carol contest of dorms, she would lead a procession in a white dress and candles. I don't know if they still do that or not.
Why I added this under the tag "Feminism"
I'm always fascinated by these stories of early women maryters and how their "purity" was protected. We like to to smirk and roll our eyes at some of the early church's emphasis on virginity and certainly it's tainted by sexism and a double standard, but underneath it celibacy offered a freedom unknown to women at the time. I think there is more going on than meets the eye. In first century Roman empire, a woman, be she a slave or from a noble family really had no choice as to who had access to her body. I think these stories of women refusing suitors, choosing celibacy, and being miraculously saved from rape all speak to the freedom and power over their own bodies the Gospel offered to women. She did not have to give her body to the highest bidder, be it a husband chosen for her or her master. The teaching of a bodily resurrection gives respect to one's body. In the Resurrection a woman's body had value and meaning outside of giving sexual pleasure and bearing sons for men. I think these stories and legends gave women power over their bodies. And it's kind of too bad we've ignored such a powerful story and put lighted candles on little girl's heads.


  1. All stuff I never knew even though I'm half Norwegian/Swedish. We received no Scandinavian culture from our relatives on the Anderson side of the family. And at Luther College, they didn't do this ritual. They have it at Gustavus, I know.

  2. I went to Golden Valley Lutheran College (formerly LBI, and now defunct), where a sophomore girl was elected to be Santa Lucia. She, along with her "court" went to all the dorm rooms in the wee hours of the morning, serving cookies and punch, dressed in white and with a wreath of candles on her head. As she served, she and her court sang this song: (but in English, of course). It was a surreal experience.

  3. we had Lucias at Gustavus. Also at the Swedish Institute in Mpls. I always wanted to be Lucia, but there was one girl older than me. Although the candles on the head always scared me a little bit.

    thanks for the feminist take.

  4. Having grown up in a German LCA congregation, I knew little of St. Lucia. As an Adult, I moved to Mason City, Iowa and became a member of Trinity Lutheran church - a predominately Norwegian Congregation. There the girls grew up with dreams of being St. Lucia in the annual Christmas program.

    I really like your insight into Feminism.