December 13th, Saint Lucia Day is a celebration of light. A beautiful way to celebrate the spirit of Christmas, a season of love, peace and tolerance, is to introduce your children to celebrations taking place in different cultures around the world. Learning of histories and stories, tasting festive foods, and accepting foreign traditions opens hearts and minds. In turn, family bonds are strengthened while merrymaking together.
One such fest, most popularly celebrated in Scandinavia and Italy, is Saint Lucia Day. St. Lucia is a traditional Christian feast day held on December 13th. It is known as a Celebration of Light marking the beginning of the Christmas season. It originally coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The young woman Lucia, meaning light in Italian, was said to be extraordinarily beautiful. The light shining from her eyes was fueled by her love for Christ which emanated both a physical and spiritual radiance about her.
The story of Saint Lucia, an early-4th-century virgin martyr, is both wonderful and tragic. Lucia was raised to believe in Christ and at a young age dedicated her life to God in service to the poor. In Italy, the year 283 A.D. was a time of great political and social unrest. The emperor of Rome issued strict demands against those practicing the Christian religion. It is said that Lucia, pardoned because of her family’s royal status, visited catacombs under the Sicilian city of Syracuse where Christians hid to avoid persecution. To light her way, Lucia wore a wreath of candles on her head. This enabled her to carry food and water attending to those forced to live in desperate conditions. Eventually, Lucia was caught and put to death.
Each winter on December 13th, amidst the darkest time of the year, children around the world take part in commemorating Saint Lucia with a Celebration of Light. In towns and schools throughout Sweden, children dress up to walk in reverent church processions. Girls and boys wear long white gowns as a symbol of purity. Girls place a wreath or crown of candles on their head and tie a red sash about the waist or shoulders symbolizing the blood of St. Lucia’s martyrdom. Boys wear white cone-shaped hats decorated with gold stars and carry attendant candles. It is a long-standing ceremonial tribute to this saintly young woman.
If you would like to celebrate St. Lucia Day, I have included ideas to bring Lucia’s story into your home. On December 13th, Swedish children awaken early and dress in white nightgowns. The eldest daughter in the family, when she is old enough, ties a red sash around her waist, places a candle wreath on her head and leads the sibling procession to their parents’ darkened bedroom. They present their mother and father with a breakfast tray of lussekatter (bright saffron buns), pepparkakor (gingersnaps) and cups of steaming coffee. This gesture creates a thoughtful contribution to the family’s Christmastide traditions.
Music plays an important part in Saint Lucia traditions. Classical Christmas carols such as Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night can be sung or played in the background adding to the reverence and calming spirit of your family’s observance of Saint Lucia Day. You are invited to add this Swedish Saint Lucia playlist to your festivities.
Saint Lucia Day: A Celebration of Light brings with it a rich source of love and goodness. Saint Lucia Day is a valuable ancient and foreign celebration worth learning about, teaching to your children and introducing into your family’s Christmas holiday traditions.
Each December 1st when our children were young, this simple, little advent candle was set in the window on the landing of the stairwell up to their bedrooms. It marked the beginning of our family’s Christmas celebrations. It just wouldn’t have been December without it. Each evening at dusk, I would light the candle and a child would take their turn marking off the day of the month counting down to Christmas. It was quite a thrill! (I blew out the candle on my way to bed each night.)
To make your simple, little advent candle:
1. purchase a candle in a small jar (approx. 3″ diameter)
2. download the sheet of calendar squares (print onto full label sheet or plain paper)
3. cut out one calendar square (save the others for subsequent Decembers!)
4. if printed on a full label sheet, peel off back of calendar square and stick to outside of candle jar
5. if printed on plain paper, cut out calendar square and glue to outside of candle jar
6. choose a favorite window in your home to set the candle, collect a marker and together with your children begin marking off the days counting down to Christmas!