Santa Lucia: A Celebration of Light
The story of Santa Lucia, the bearer of light, is one that children relive each year on December 13th. Wearing a crown of candles and singing the songs of light and Christmas bring a sense of warmth and sweetness to the season. Read on to hear about the tradition and what we like to do to celebrate. We have also created a collection of items to help make your celebration be filled with light.
Light has been a guide in all ages of time, metaphorically and literally. I wasn't raised with familiarity with or communion of Catholic saints, however I love hearing their inspiring stories of faith. Lucia's story is one that is beautiful, enlightening, and just a bit gruesome. Her name, Lucia, means "light" in Italian.
Lucia was born into a time of great political and social anxiety in Italy (c. 285 AD). Her family was part of the nobility of Sicily, and Lucia was, unusually, raised to believe in Christ. As a teenager she dedicated her virginity to God and her life to service of the poor. She was known around the city for her kindness and giving nature. The people said light shone from her eyes.
However, in 303 AD the emperor of Rome issued three edicts against the Christians in an attempt to prevent the faith from growing in Italy. Churches and religious writings were to be burned, priests to be killed or sold into slavery, and any Christian villages and villagers were to be burned. Because of Lucia's noble status, she was protected. Other Christians went into hiding in the catacombs, the underground graveyards which lay beneath cities all over Italy. Lucia would bring food and water to those who were forced to live in the catacombs of Syracuse. In order to free up her hands to carry the supplies, she wove a wreath for her head with candles to light her way in the tunnels.
Eventually, she was caught, and even her noble lineage could not save her. She was publicly tried, her light-filled eyes gouged, and eventually she was put to death on December 13th, 204 AD. (Her trial was even more miraculous that I have shared here. For a more extensive and very interesting recounting of her story read here.)
My first experience celebrating Santa Lucia was in Sicily, Italy. Five years ago, I was living in the small Sicilian town of Ragusa (about an hour away from Syracuse). While I had heard of Santa Lucia in the past, I didn't know her story The city of Syracuse, is the birthplace of Lucia, and in all of the surrounding villages they celebrate her for weeks prior to Christmas. One evening, I happened upon one such celebration. Candles burned brightly, and the procession moved slowly. All eyes were focused on the wreath of flickering candles on a young girl's head. She, the girl chosen to relive the story, followed behind a great silver statue of Santa Lucia. The people around me were barefoot in the middle of December, their desire to follow the light urging them on and keeping them warm. I was truly spellbound by the beauty of the evening.
Lucia's story was told extensively in Scandinavia as Christians made their way North. Many in these regions already had celebrations of light, winter solstice, during the same time of year. When they heard Lucia's story, they also wanted to honor her light. Scandinavians have developed their own traditions around celebrating this holiday. Our local Swedish Heritage Society typically hosts a Santa Lucia event each year, but it has been canceled this year due to COVID-19. So we want to make sure that you can have your own celebration of light at home! The procession, music, and good food are all a part of it.
Remembering Lucia and her kind actions towards others is a wonderful way to add meaning to your Christmas season. Here are some ideas of ways to celebrate at home this year and tell her story.
Candle Crowns and Lights: The candle wreath has become a symbol of Lucia's story and you will need one for your celebration. If your "Lucia" is old enough, consider this brass crown for real candles. If you are a little worried about lighting candles on a little ones head, we have these plastic ones with battery powered lights! We also have attendant candles so everyone can carry a light.
Nightgowns or white dresses: Those who represent Lucia, and many in the procession, typically wear a white dress or nightgown. White is a symbol of purity.
Red sashes and slippers: Tie a red sash around your waist or shoulders. Here are some red silk scarves or hair ribbons that work well, and are lovely to use all year round. We also love these cozy wool slippers that carry the woven heart as a reminder to love others. Red is a symbol of love and courage.
Santa Lucia Buns (Lussekatter): The bright saffron buns are just the thing to share with others. Let your "Lucia" carry them in a basket, offering one to all in her path. Deliver to neighbors and friends. Use these bun warmers to keep them warm as you bring food to those in need. Here is the traditional recipe we use.
Music: This is such an important part of the tradition. Singing along with the procession allows a gentle spirit to settle. Traditional songs like Silent Night or Come All Ye Faithful set the right tone. Or here is a playlist of Swedish Santa Lucia Songs.
Peeling Oranges: In Italy, there is a tradition to give an unmarried girls an orange to peel. The Sicilian blood orange has a hearty skin, and only if you can peel the orange in one long peel are you prepared to find your husband. So get a bag of oranges and practice your peeling! Or snag one of these surprise ball oranges for the kids to uncover.
For a season of short days and long nights, there is power in making your own light. Learn about and celebrate Santa Lucia Day this year on December 13th. Make it a tradition for years to come. Shop our Santa Lucia collection.