Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa Lucia Day ~ A Celebration of Light in Sweden

Many of you have read my Santa Lucia posts in prior years. This time, I decided to combine the 2012 and 2013 posts and add some background to the Santa Lucia customs in Sweden. If you read this for the first time, I hope you will enjoy learning about Saint Lucy and the tradition of the Festival of Light celebrations held in Sweden on her Saint's Day. 

Me as Santa Lucia in the 1940s

Throughout history, people in the Nordic countries have celebrated light in the dark and cold of the approaching winter solstice. 

In the old calendar, December 13th was the longest night of the year. It was also the most dangerous. A night when animals could speak and fairies, trolls, and giants roamed the forests. In the countryside, young people would dress up in costumes and go from house to house, singing songs, eating and drinking with their neighbors. The custom of a Lucia dressed in white was first recorded in 1764, but didn't become popular until the 19th century. 

This old tradition continues today. On December 13, Santa Lucia Day is celebrated in Sweden with festivals of light across the country. And at the darkest time of year, people are reminded that our earth will soon begin to turn toward the light of spring.

According to tradition, the eldest daughter in the family, wearing a white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles, brings coffee and Lucia buns (lussekatter) to her parents in bed. 

Yes, that's me as Santa Lucia with a crown of real candles on my head! (I did have a wet napkin on my hair, underneath the crown.) The girl and her court of younger siblings sing the old Neapolitan song Santa Lucia in a translation that celebrates light coming to this dark season. This tradition continues in Swedish homes today, but with battery operated candles, I'm sure.

Lucia buns

Santa Lucia is crowned in schools, churches, and communities all over Sweden and processions are held with the Queen of Light leading her court. Everyone holds candles and sings the Santa Lucia song.  

Source: Google Images

Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy, was a Sicilian woman who was martyred in the year 304 AD. A common story suggests that she would secretly bring food to persecuted Christians who lived in the catacombs of Rome and, in order to keep her hands free, she wore a crown of candles on her head. Another legend tells us that she consecrated her virginity to God through pious works. After she refused to marry her betrothed, a pagan man, he became infuriated and reported her to the authorities. When guards came to arrest her, she was so filled with the Holy Spirit that they couldn't move her, even with a team of oxen. The guards then gathered materials around her and set them on fire, but she didn't burn. In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy's eyes are gouged prior to her execution and she is often depicted in art carrying her eyes on a tray.

Saint Lucy, by Domenico Beccafumi, in a 1521 recasting of an iconic Gothic image. It was said that Saint Lucy was tortured with eye gouging, hence this rather disturbing image. The picture, as well as some of the history of Saint Lucy, are courtesy Wikipedia. 

Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind. Her name is derived from Lux, Latin for light, and she is presented with light in art and literature.  Saint Lucy is one of only seven women, aside from the Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass


A Note:

The coffee cups I carry in the second picture above, belonged to my maternal grandmother and they now have a home here with me.

My maternal grandmother


  1. Oh Inger you and your maternal Grandmother are so so beautiful. I love that you share these traditions with us just love it. That is a beautiful cup and saucer and so full of good memories. Happy Santa Lucia Day my friend. HUGS HUGS B.

  2. Happy Santa Lucia Day Inger. I'd often heard about the Swedish Festival but never knew the background or the rituals. What a disturbing image of poor St Lucy. But you looked really cute with your crown of candles and I agree with Buttons, the tea set is beautiful. Fil

  3. Happy Saint Lucia Day, looked like an angel...:)JP

  4. You know I adore your Christmas posts! I know people who've been lucky enough to be in Sweden during this celebration. All say it's unbelievably gorgeous -- all those lights! Was it a reindeer in one of your posts that started out as a frog or crab or something odd in legend before settling on reindeer? Can you give a link? And, Inger, you do look like an angel in those photos. Happy Saint Lucia Day!

  5. Happy Saint Lucia Day, Inger! Love always to see your Christmas post!
    So beautiful the old tradition of Nordic countries to celebrated the approaching winter solstice!
    You looked so lovely as Santa Lucia with the white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles!
    Love the picture of your maternal grandmother and it is so nice that you have with you a coffee cups of your grandmother. A lovely remembrance indeed!
    Happy Saint Lucia Day!
    Lots of hugs!

  6. i like those old photos of you ... and the fact you have the cups is amazing. your grandmother was beautiful and i do love old have a lot of happy memories and thanks for sharing.

  7. i always love seeing that photo of you. :)

  8. Those photos of you are precious. And what's better -- you weren't carrying a tray with eyeballs! It is so sad what we humans do to one another in the name of God. God should sue Man for slander! I am so happy that you have the cups!!

  9. A lovely story Inger, you with real candles, and the cups and saucers, truly delicate and beautiful.I, too, have some that were my maternal Grandma's, they came from Scotland to NZ in 1909!!! Hugs,Jean.

  10. wow, wonderful photos of you so long ago and i loved reading about Santa Lucia - thanks so much for such an interesting post.

  11. What amazing traditions and I LOVED these photos! Thank you for sharing this history with us.

  12. You were so cute as St. Lucia and the story about her and the celebrations was really interesting. I love hearing about celebrations and beliefs of other countries. That cup is just beautiful. How nice you still have it.
    That wet napkin sounded like a smart idea.

  13. Wonderful photos and memories. I have a set of Santa Lucia felt mice on my mantle. Yes, one has the candles on her head. Every time I see them I smile. IKEA here in Denver has a tasty Christmas dinner complete with folk dancing and typical Swedish food. We will miss it this year, sadly.

  14. What beautiful photos of you when you were a girl. We look a little alike in our childhood photos. I like learning more about this tradition, too. Enjoy your weekend sweet friend. Hugs, Diane

  15. Inger, I cannot tell you enough how much I love enjoy your posts of your holiday traditions and memories. I've read and enjoyed this post three times (really!) and from your precious photos to your beautiful coffee cups, each are treasures that truly make this day a special one. Thank-you for sharing the magic of this day with people like me, who wish they were just a little Swedish! ~ Happy, Happy Santa Lucia Day, Inger!!~

  16. Informative. Maternal grandmother was beautiful.

  17. What an informative post Inger. I love hearing about customs from other cultures. The photos are beautiful. You make a lovely little Saint Lucia. And your maternal grandmother was indeed beautiful.

    I hope to enjoy many more of your posts in 2015.

    I wish you every good wish for Christmas and the New Year!

    Denise :)

  18. And a lovely little St Lucia you made, too!

  19. Hi Inger - what wonderful memories for you and for us to think about ... St Lucy is indeed a Saint ... incredible story. I love how her life is kept alive today and you carry on the traditions in Sweden .. while you hold your maternal grandmother's cups as special keepsakes ... lovely thoughts ... cheers Hilary

  20. I love that you still have the cup and saucer. What a lovely post. There are so many festivals of light at this time of the year and is it any wonder, with these dark cold nights.

    I can't resist mentioning your point about animals talking. Our animals all talk to us, as you well know!!

  21. Här har det också firats Lucia , i flera dagar är det nu för tiden .Min mamma hade varit och tittat på Lucia i byns skola idag .Vi fick lite snö så nu är världen ljusare för en stund ,det vänta regn imorgon igen men julen ser ut att bli vit ,kram, nette

  22. That's a really interesting post, and I liked the pictures very much. I'm trying to think if we have anything even approaching that here and I don't think we do.

  23. That was very interesting and thanks so much for sharing it with us.
    How nice that you still have the cup and saucer. : )

  24. Inger, what a beautiful post to share with us. I love the touching storey of St Lucia.
    You look adorable all dress in the traditional white robe with candles on your head.
    I'm so glad you still have that precious cup from your beautiful grandmother. She looks regal.


  25. Thank you for sharing this Inger. I very much enjoyed learning about St. Lucia Day. You were so sweet in your little costume with candles on your head.

  26. Thank you for this post. I have Swedish ancestry, but we didn't do the Santa Lucia celebration. Although, we do love the sweet breads and the lefse. I am directing a children's choir for a local production of "A Christmas Carol" and will share this information with them. I am having them do some creative writing while we wait for the acts to finish (we're the preshow and intermission entertainment), and I think this story will spark some ideas.
    Blessings to at Christmas and throughout the new year.
    Play off the Page

  27. Dear Inger, your maternal grandmother was truly a beautiful person. Her smile indicates that she was, like you, beautiful both inwardly and outwardly. Thanks so much for explaining this Swedish tradition. I knew a little about it but now I have a story to share with my family on Christmas day! You are a darling in those two pictures. So innocent and so careful with those cups. And holding your head just so with your crown of lighted candles. Traditions so enrich our lives and I'm hoping that in some way you've continued this tradition in your American home. Peace.


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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