Tis the Season: Lucia, Lady of Light

Lucia in watercolors. Painting by me.

Growing up in a community founded by Scandinavian immigrants, my childhood was sprinkled with homages to my heritage.  On my mother’s side of the family, I’m a third generation American, with ancestors from Sweden and Norway.

There are some beautiful holiday traditions that come from these countries.  One of their most celebrated is St. Lucia, lady of light.

The story of Lucia goes way back:

 Her legend stems from Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It is thought that during a time when the rulers of the land did not look favorably upon Christianity, a woman named Lucia had devoted her life to God and the poor. She gave her entire dowry to the poor, and the man she was to marry was very upset by this. Lucia was put on trial, refused to renounce her Christian beliefs and was declared a witch. She was to be burned at the stake but when the guards tried to light the fire it would not light. Ultimately, she was stabbed. (Quote Source Here)

No one really knows how Lucia’s story came to Sweden.  One of the most popular tales surrounding the legend is that, during a terrible famine, a lighted ship sailed across Lake Vannern bearing a woman at the helm.  The woman’s head glowed with light and aboard the ship was food for the starving people.

Because of being so far north, winters in Sweden and Norway are dark, long, and harsh.  Over the years, Lucia has become a symbol of hope in that darkness.

Today, Sankta Lucia, or St. Lucia’s Day, falls on December 13.  The tradition began in the home, but now is celebrated as a community event.  A young woman is chosen each year to portray Lucia.  She is dresses in a white robe with a red sash around her waist.  Atop her head is a crown of candles.  She carries a tray of cookies to her house and community while her attendants (often siblings and small children) sings carols.

Although I’m not Catholic and do not really pay attention to saints, Lucia is incredibly special to me.  As a child, I participated in my community’s annual Sankta Lucia pageant.  Over the years, I played many parts, from simple attendant to Sugar Baker to member of the Tomte chorus.  When I was seventeen, I had the honor of being selected as my community’s Lucia.

The Lucia tradition is very near and dear to my heart.  America is such a great melting pot that culture and heritage is often lost and forgotten.  I’m very thankful that my parents got me involved in celebrating Swedish customs at a young age.  Someday, if I’m lucky enough to have a daughter, I hope that I will be able to pass on the tradition.

Me as Lucia in my local pageant in 2009.

Tis the Season is an annual holiday-themed series on Keep Your Feet.  The goal is to bring the blogging community together to celebrate holiday memories and traditions.

One thought on “Tis the Season: Lucia, Lady of Light

  1. paradoxicalsprite December 26, 2015 / 2:16 am

    I love your painting of Saint Lucia! It’s a nice combination of simple and ethereal, like something you’d find in a book. I’ve never heard the story of Saint Lucia before so it was quite intriguing to hear it. Thanks so much for sharing this post 🙂

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