Over Christmas I received a Postcrossing postcard from the Swedish speaking minority living along the coasts in Finland. Although the card itself showed the Viking line, which cruises between Turku or Helsinki in Finland and Stockholm in Sweden, the sender talked about the celebration of St Lucia on the 13th of December. Although that is a while ago, it is still sufficiently dark here in Denmark to warrant a blog post about someone who brings light to darkness! She wrote:
“We choose a girl to be Lucia and all dressed up in white with a red belt, she gets her candles light up in the church by a priest. She sings the hymn ‘Santa Lucia’ and visits a lot of lonely, poor, sick and old people to give them light in the December dark Finland. She also shows up in all Christmas parties for children.”
St Lucia is mainly celebrated in Scandinavia and Italy, where Lucia is originally from. She is the patron saint of Syracuse, Sicily. Although the celebration is about St Lucia (d. 304), some of the traditions on this day in Scandinavia are predating Christianity and focus on the ‘annual struggle between light and darkness’. The little light in these countries in winter could explain the popularity of this day.
The way the day is celebrated varies according to the country: where in Italy the celebration is tied to a legend of a famine ending on St Lucia’s day (which is why many Italians eat whole wheat instead of normal bread that day), the Swedes, Fins and Norwegians elect their Lucia’s who walk in a procession of women holding candles, symbolizing St Lucia’s life. Interestingly, the Swedish tradition got imported to Denmark during the Second World War, to ‘bring light to the darkness’. Here, the day is more strongly tied to the church than it is in Sweden.