Flickering candles, hot coffee, and saffron buns. This Scandinavian Advent tradition has its roots in the story of a 3rd-century martyr who brought light and aid to Christian saints in hiding.
(Note: To learn more about Advent and how to celebrate it at home with family and friends, read A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home by Ashley Wallace! There’s a whole section on Saint Lucy’s Day in the book!)
Celebrated on December 13 (one week after St Nicholas day), the feast day of St. Lucy is one of warmth, light, abundance, and generosity—pointing towards the coming of the Great Light.
Where Did St Lucy’s Day Come From?
St. Lucy (or Lucia), whose very name means “light,” was a Christian in Sicily during the 3rd century. Eventually martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian, legend tells that she would sneak food to Christians who had been forced into hiding in catacombs. In order to carry more provisions, she’s said to have worn a wreath of candles on her head to light her way in the dark night.
Her feast day shows up quite early in history and ecclesiastical record, although the “traditional” celebrations are more modern.
So how did a Sicilian saint come to be celebrated in Scandinavia?
Well, according to a medieval legend, during a particularly dark, sparse winter, a ship bearing Lucy’s image, loaded with sacks of wheat, arrived on the shores of Lake Vännern and kept the people from starving. Lucy’s feast day coincided with the turning of the year, winter solstice, and came to symbolize the return of light, warmth, and hope.
How Do We Celebrate St Lucy’s Day?
Although the feast is celebrated in many countries with different treats and traditions, the most familiar image is of a young girl in a white gown (symbolizing Lucy’s baptismal robe and purity) and red sash (representing her martyrdom) with a wreath of candles on her head, processing with light, singing, and bread through the dark of night.
Before dawn, our oldest daughter gets up and, helped by her sisters, dresses in a white nightgown, makes the coffee, lights her (LED) wreath crown, and processes into our room with singing and the breakfast tray.
It’s good fun for all, but can also be a perfect opportunity to discuss the coming of the Light into the darkness, the Bread of Life, and the hope of the martyrs and saints. It’s a bright spot in the Advent season of longing and a celebration our children look forward to!
A Collects for Saint Lucy’s Day
From Common Worship:
God our redeemer,
who gave light to the world that was in darkness
by the healing power of the Saviour’s cross:
shed that light on us, we pray,
that with your martyr Lucy
we may, by the purity of our lives,
reflect the light of Christ
and, by the merits of his passion,
come to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.