Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sankta Lucia Day ~ A Celebration of Light in Scandinavia

I forgot that today is Sankta Lucia Day in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. Thank you fishducky for your Hanukkah post, which reminded me. I'm glad because I like to remember the traditions I grew up with.

This is what I posted back in 2014: 

Many of you have read my Sankta Lucia posts in prior years. This time, I decided to combine the 2012 and 2013 posts and add some background to the Sankta 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 Sankta 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, Sankta 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 Sankta 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 Sankta 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

Sankta 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 Sankta Lucia song.  

Source: Google Images

Sankta 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. So interesting. I didn't know anything about Sankta Lucia Day or Saint Lucy! Loved the old photos. I am the most clumsy person in the world and would never trust myself with lit candles on my head.

  2. I was introduced to this tradition when I used to nanny for a swedish family and the oldest daughter would dress up like St Lucia, And yes, now, the lights are perfectly safe, using batteries.

    Your grandmother was beautiful and the pictures of you are adorable.

  3. I remember this post & I was SO glad to see it again!!

  4. I remember this post and have taught about this Christmas tradition, throughout my years of teaching. I always enjoying seeing your photos!

  5. this is so special,and now I know the story behind that beautiful song. Brave to have real live candles on your head, even with a wet cloth under. I hope you enjoyed your morning, and had coffee in a special cup, so delicate and beautiful.

  6. What a powerful, if sad story. Loved seeing you as the young Lucy.

  7. I remember this post too but never tire of hearing the story. You look angelique in that photo.

    Happy Sankta Lucia Day to you Inger.
    Hugs, Julia

  8. What fun to see you as a youngster dressed as Sankta Lucia. My mother's parents emigrated from Sweden and my mother used to tell me about Santa Lucia. She made a Santa Lucia out of pewter, which I have with me and plan to pass on to my granddaughter in the future. What an interesting history!

  9. What an interesting post, Inger! I'm Swedish (on my father's side) so you are helping learn my heritage!!

  10. Oh Darn, Google just ate my comment. I loved this fascinating post, and especially seeing you as a girl. You were beautiful! I love that you have those coffee cups in your home as a link to the past. Happy Santa Lucia Day!

  11. Good morning dear Inger,

    I remember well your Sankta Lucia posts! Thanks for let me know the Sankta Lucia customs in Sweden
    and the tradition of the Festival of the Festival of Light celebrations!
    You are lovely as Sankta Lucia in the 1940s!

    The coffee cups is beautiful!


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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