Each year on Dec. 13, St. Lucia Day is celebrated throughout Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Just as Christmas traditions are unique to the certain countries of the world, St. Lucia Day festivities are unique to Scandinavia.
St. Lucia Day, also known as St. Lucy's Day, is held in honor of the woman said to have been one of the first Christian martyrs in history. Due to her religious faith, St. Lucia was martyred by the Romans in 304 A.D. Today, the holiday plays a central role in Christmastime celebrations in Scandinavia. Globally, however, St. Lucia hasn't received the recognition that other martyrs, such as Joan of Arc, have.
How St. Lucia Day Is Celebrated
St. Lucia Day is celebrated with candlelight and traditional candlelit processions, similar to the luminarias procession in some parts of the Southwest United States. Scandinavians not only honor St. Lucia with candlelight, but they also dress like her in commemoration.
For example, the eldest girl in the family will oftentimes portray St. Lucia by putting on a white robe in the morning. She might also wear a crown full of candles because legend has it that St. Lucia wore candles in her hair to allow her to hold food for Rome's persecuted Christians in her hands. Given this, the eldest daughters in families also serve their parents Lucia buns (sweet, saffron, S-shaped rolls) and coffee or mulled wine.
During church, the women will sing the traditional St. Lucia song, which describes how the martyr overcame the darkness and found the light. Each of the Scandinavian countries has similar lyrics in their native tongues. So, both in church and in private households, girls and women have a special role in remembering the saint.
In Scandinavian history, the night of St. Lucia was known to be the longest night of the year (winter solstice), which was changed when the Gregorian calendar was reformed. Prior to their conversion to Christianity, the Norse observed the solstice with huge bonfires designed to ward off evil spirits, but when Christianity spread among the Nordic peoples (circa 1000), they, too, began to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Lucia. Essentially, the festival has aspects of Christian customs and pagan customs alike.
The St. Lucia Day festival of light also has symbolic overtones. During a dark winter in Scandinavia, the idea of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed by the locals for hundreds of years. The celebrations and processions on Saint Lucia Day are illuminated by thousands of candles.
Traveling During St. Lucia Day
Though widely celebrated, St. Lucia Day is not a public holiday in Sweden or any other Scandinavian country; therefore, businesses are not required to close on this day. Instead, tourists will be delighted to find that the local businesses participate in the tradition, choosing their own St. Lucia and hosting concerts and the like.
On the morning of St. Lucia Day, tune into Sweden's annual broadcast of a concert and procession including celebrity guests. Join in on the celebration. Festive spirits abound.