It’s the most wonderful time of the year with friends and family gathering and celebrating Christmas traditions together. One of my favorite family traditions takes place in early December each year and reminds me of our theme for The Anchor: sharing hope and light.
December 13th marks a special holiday known as Saint Lucia Day. It is the Festival of Lights celebrated in Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries in honor of Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia and is meant to bring hope and light in the darkest time of the year.
Recently, I returned home after a visit to North Carolina to be with my daughter and her family and to spend time with my two precious granddaughters. I was excited to bring our oldest granddaughter Isla, who is 3 years old, an important accessory for this special Saint Lucia Day tradition — the Lucia crown. It is a wreath shaped crown of white plastic candles (battery operated for little ones). Isla was delighted! Anything that resembles a princess prop of any kind is welcomed with extended arms and sheer excitement! As she tried it on, memories came rushing back of how I came to know about this special day and its history and significance.
Saint Lucia was a young Christian woman who served the poor with food and shared her faith. According to legend, she would carry food and water to persecuted Christians who had been forced to hide out in the catacombs of Rome. The catacombs were dark, and Lucia needed her hands free to carry supplies. So, she engineered a very creative version of a headlamp, wearing a wreath of candles on top of her head to light the way. In 304 AD she was burned at the stake for being a follower of Jesus and has forever been remembered for the love, hope, and light she brings.
The tradition consists of the oldest daughter in a family dressing up like Saint Lucia in a white gown with a red sash tied around the waist and wearing a crown of lit candles (fake or real) in a wreath upon her head. In the early morning, while it is still dark, she brings special rolls called saffron buns and hot drinks to everyone in the household. Shining brightly, she symbolizes the coming of the light of the world, the gift of Jesus, celebrated at Christmastime.
I was chosen to be Saint Lucia when I was 14 years old
My earliest memories of this tradition were in my Lutheran Church growing up. Every Christmas season, Saint Lucia was celebrated in our church with a special service. Each year a girl from our middle school Sunday School class was selected to be Saint Lucia. I had the honor of being chosen to represent her when I was fourteen years old. I wore the ceremonial attire that signified her remembrance: the white dress, red sash and, most memorable for me, the wreath of fresh greenery and real lit candles set upon my head. It was a privilege to be chosen and lead our church in a sacred ceremony of carols and readings about the light Jesus brings. I will never forget holding my head straight and steady as I carefully and slowly walked down the sanctuary aisle, my crown ablaze, hoping and praying my hair would not catch on fire!
I learned more about this tradition in high school when I enrolled in an elective foreign language class, Swedish. I was fascinated with learning about Saint Lucia. I was inspired by her dedication and faithful heart in following Jesus. I hoped some day in the future, I would be able to teach my children about this Swedish tradition. So fast forward to when I became a mother of three children (Karina, Annika and Erik) and was thrilled to pass this tradition on to my family. Every December, Karina would play the part of Saint Lucia and would serve the freshly baked cardamon buns, a delicious treat!
Karina age 5 and Annika age 3 serving St. Lucia day buns
Karina celebrating St. Lucia Day at 10 years old
As the years have passed, I am so thankful that my daughter Annika has continued to carry on the tradition with her family. Isla has gladly taken on the grand responsibility of serving her family and helping to begin the Christmas season in Saint Lucia fashion.
Isla celebrating Saint Lucia Day at 2 years old
As I’ve pondered the true meaning of this tradition, it has brought inspiration that I hope and pray will encourage us all. At Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth is also the celebration of the light and hope He brings. The long and dark December days make me think of life without Jesus and the dark places we can find ourselves in. Jesus is the light of the world and brings light to the dark corners of our lives.
When we receive Him and welcome Him to dwell in our hearts, our lives will be illuminated with goodness and light, and the darkness is dispelled.
I’ve often thought of the dark places in so many areas of life: health, relationships, grief, financial troubles or challenging living situations. Jesus comes into our darkness bringing the warmth of His love, joy and peace. Let the light of Lucia remind you of the light of the world, Jesus Christ, the greatest and brightest gift of the season!