|Icon from the hand of Luke Dingman|
My daughter was not quite three years old when she participated in the first St. Lucia Procession we ever attempted at our church. Now, 20 years later, she watches and sings with the adults as the young girls process down the aisle, following the oldest girl, who represents Lucia and is wearing a "crown" of candles. I'm sure each girl, dressed in a white gown with red sash - symbolizing the saint's commitment to purity and her martyrdom - anticipates the year she will finally wear the traditional "Lucia Crown" (with battery-operated candles, as opposed to open flames!)
Lucia was a Christian, living in Sicily during the fourth century. Her parents had arranged for her to wed, against her will. Lucia vowed to remain a virgin, instead of marrying a pagan, and gave her dowry to the poor. Her fiancee denounced her and reported her to the authorities. Since Christianity was against the law at that time in the Roman Empire, Lucia was put to death.
During the Middle Ages, Swedes "adopted" this Italian saint. The name Lucia itself means "light", which the people of Sweden don't see a lot of during the winter. December 13th was the longest night of the year (Winter Solstice under the old Julian Calendar) so, in the darkness of Sweden, this holy-day also celebrated the fact that the days would begin to grow longer.
The traditional "St. Lucia Procession" originated in Sweden, and is practiced in homes, churches, and communities there. In Norway, children bring the procession to nursing homes and hospitals, serving lussekatt buns to the elderly. Scandinavian immigrants have brought the celebration to the U.S. - look for Swedish Christmas Fairs and Lutheran churches in your community that might host processions during December (that's how I saw my first St. Lucia Procession!)
Take a minute or so to watch this beautiful traditional Swedish Lucia Procession...
PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT ST. LUCIA:
Lucia Saint of Light, by Katherine Bolger Hyde, illustrations by Daria Fisher (ages 6 and up). Do you have a daughter who is interested in knowing why girls wear white dresses, balance a crown of candles on their heads, and carry a platter of saffron buns on St. Lucia Day? Katherine Bolger Hyde does a wonderful job of explaining these customs, in this beautiful book with two parallel stories - about a modern-day girl named Lucy, and a 4th-Century Saint named Lucia. The tales are interwoven as Lucy prepares to celebrate her "nameday" and her mother explains to her the origins of the story of St. Lucia and the background behind the traditions of her celebration and her association with Sweden. At the end of the book, you'll find the "Santa Lucia" song (with words and music), her icon, verses from her Feastday Aposticha, and a recipe.
Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Jydaker, illustrated by Carina Stalhberg. (ages 5-10) A story about three children as they prepare for their St. Lucia Day celebration. It includes the Lucia song, recipes for ginger snaps and saffron buns, a summary of the Lucia legend, and two patterns for the Lucia gowns. (You'll have to search for this cute book, which is currently out of print.)
Lucia, Child of Light: The History and Traditions of Sweden's Lucia Celebration, by Florence Ekstrand. (Also currently out of print, but probably available at your local library.) This book introduced us to Saint Lucia when my daughter was young. It traces the history of St. Lucia and includes a recipe and the Lucia song in both English and Swedish. (ages 6 and up)
Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story, by Janet Beeler Shaw. (ages 9-12) From the AMERICAN GIRL series: a short story about Kirsten Larson, a nine-year-old girl from Sweden, who has moved with her family to the Minnesota frontier in 1854. With Christmas approaching, Kirsten is excited about introducing her cousins to the Saint Lucia celebration. The day before Saint Lucia Day, Kirsten's father decides to go get the family's trunks out of storage (where Kirsten's dress is being stored) and Kirsten is just dying to go with him. However, as a Minnesota winter storm descends, she finds that her help is more needed then she could have imagined.