On December 13 of every year Saint Lucia, bearer of light in the winter darkness, is celebrated in several Nordic countries approaching Christmas holidays.
The Origin of Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia was born in Syracuse, Italy in 283 A.D out of nobility. According to one legend, she was betrothed to a man who didn’t share her Christian belief whom Lucia refused to marry. In another myth it was said that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Saint Lucia brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs using a candle-lit wreath in her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry food. There were failed attempts to burn Saint Lucia alive and she was tragically decapitated on 13 December 304 A.D. at 20 years old. Lucia was thereafter commemorated as a Saint.
Lucia celebration makes its way to the Nordics
The celebrations coincides with the Winter solstice, in Nordic countries due to the short daylight hours. Lucia day was called a “little Yule”, since this was the day preparations were made for Yuletide (Christmas) celebration. Lucia Day was called “Lussinatta” in Sweden and had a deeper connection to the winter solstice of the time than the actual Italian Saint Lucia. The winter solstice was the darkest day of the year and when one ought to be on guard for evil spirits according to pagan folk tales. The legend says that a female demon named Lussi rode through the night together with other evil spirits on December 13th riding through the wintry air ready to threaten anyone that dare to cross them. Over time, however, the traditions have been intertwined.
Modern day Saint Lucia celebrations in the Nordic countries
In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, the custom is for a girl to be elected to portray Lucia, wearing a long white gown, a red sash and a wreath of lingonberry sprigs that hold real candles as she was walks in a procession followed by other Lucia maidens and Star boys that form a choir. The candle represents the fire that refused to light in the attempt to burn her alive, and the red sash signifies death. The group then performs Christmas songs and serves buns and coffee. The processions take place in churches, schools and workplaces on December 13th.
Central to Santa Lucia day is the enjoyment of Lussebuns, golden buns whose scent characterizes Christmas in the most traditional way especially in Scandinavia. The yellow color comes from saffron and the buns are adorned with raisins, as well as shaped in circular patterns that also have Nordic symbolism and can be traced right back to the Bronze Age.