Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa Lucia Day - December 13

Because I'm of Swedish-Danish heritage, and because my birthday is December 13, I've always been fascinated and interested in St. Lucia, a martyr because of her Christian faith and her kind deeds to the poor and needy. 

I have been St. Lucia once in college, with the real crown and lit candles (I didn't know one is to put a wet handkerchief down on your head/hair first, for safety and to catch wax drips---had to cut some out!). Then on my 30th birthday, the day after our younger daughter's birth, I was still in the hospital. It was a Sunday so my husband and older daughter were at church. Suddenly the hospital room door opened and in came a dear friend with a Lucia crown (battery lights), a large tray with a pot of coffee (Swedish coffee pot), a plate of Lucia Buns, and napkins. What a fantastic surprise that I recall with great pleasure every year at this time! My loneliness was gone, my happiness returned, and we had a lovely celebration. That friend gave me the Lucia crown with electric lights. I have used it more as decor, but did have our daughters use it and celebrate the day with it a couple times. In Sweden it's a holiday, but here we still had to go to school and work.



St. Lucia Day in Sweden (from Wikipedia)

Some trace the "re-birth" of the Lucia celebrations in Sweden to the tradition in German Protestant families of having girls dressed as angelic Christ children, handing out Christmas presents. The Swedish variant of this white-dressed Kindchen Jesus, or Christkind, was called Kinken Jes, and started to appear in upper-class families in the 18th century on Christmas Eve with a candle-wreath in her hair, handing out candy and cakes to the children. Another theory claims that the Lucia celebration evolved from old Swedish traditions of “star boys” and white-dressed angels singing Christmas carols at different events during Advent and Christmas. In either case, the current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.

In the Lucia procession in the home depicted by Carl Larsson in 1908, the oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter wears the candle-wreath.


St. Lucia (from Wikipedia)

Although sources for her life-story exist other than in hagiographies, St. Lucy is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a sad death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. The Guilte Legende, a widespread and influential compendium of saint's biographies compiled in the late Middle Ages, records her story thus: She was seeking help for her mother's long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucy became a devout Christian, refused to compromise her virginity in marriage and was denounced to the Roman authorities by the man she would have wed. They threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking, insisting that her death would lessen the fear of it for other Christians and bring grief to non-believers. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop these denouncements, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Saint Lucy was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrament.

In another story, Saint Lucy was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head.

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