A Christmas Season Hoyden: Saint Lucy or Lucia was one of the early Christian Virgin Martyrs. Her feast day is 13th December.
Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated throughout Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden, and is a very special marker in the lead-up to Christmas. It is traditionally celebrated by the young girls of the town walking in procession wearing white dresses with red sashes and carrying lighted candles. The eldest wears a crown of candles, which Saint Lucy was supposed to have done to leave both her hands free to carry food to the poor. They sing, and offer around trays of sweets and buns. Lucy/Lucia means ‘light’, and in the darkness of a Northern December she acts as a figure of hope when spirits are low. A brave little candle to cheer the gloom.
The elevation of virginity and horrible death as the highest aspirations for a virtuous girl obviously carries many ethical problems. Yes, it’s true that without an oppressive patriarchy governing their lives the idea of consecrating one’s virginity to God would just seem, frankly, silly. However, we can’t neglect several centuries of young women who were offered very few models of admirable defiance in womanhood, whom the virgin-martyr saints gave plenty of ideas about following one’s own conscience, instead of following orders.
Also, they do look so very lovely. I have a thing for candles.
Here is Judy Davis in the underrated Christmas comedy The Ref explaining to her in-laws about the Swedish traditions surrounding Saint Lucy’s Day:
Here is a cute step-by-step on how to celebrate St Lucia Day that you can bookmark for next year.
Here is a post from photographer Benhästen on the possible pre-Christian origins of the St Lucia traditions.
And here is an extraordinary little book called Lucy’s Eyes and Margaret’s Dragon: the lives of the virgin saints, which tells the stories of thirteen of the virgin martyrs, with charming, delicate watercolour illustrations of them having ghastly things done to them by the enemies of the faith.