Quick, Late Friday-Now-Saturday Hoyden courtesy of my crashing internet connection: Saint Lucy

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.

Girl of about 12 wearing crown of leaves and candles, carrying tray with pewter jug and buns.

Traditional Sait Lucy’s Day dress and treats

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:

Youtube – The Ref

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.


Young blonde girl wearing candle crown and carrying candle, with others behind her.

Saint Lucy’s Day parade

Categories: arts & entertainment, history, religion

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3 replies

  1. I see it’s crown of candles plus wreaths to prevent inconvenient hot wax burns to the ears…
    My mother had a book about virgin martyrs when I was a child. It had a distinctly lascivious tone. She put it on a high shelf after I asked her what ‘potsherds’ were.

  2. Gosh, I suspect I’m the local (to HaT) authority on this tradition because I’ve been in a St Lucia parade. At my then school, the fifth and sixth grade girls were auditioned, and the best twenty or so singers chosen, as well as two girl and two boy first graders. The fifth and sixth grade girls were sorted according to height, with the tallest blonde girl chosen as the Lucia Bride for the front. Yes, at that time you had to be blonde to get to wear candles in your hair. She was then followed by the two girl first graders, two boy first graders (who wear pointy star hats) and then the others in pairs of ascending height. All the girls who weren’t the bride wore little headband things with greenery and a star, and everyone wore long white robes.
    We had to practice walking in time to the songs (the Lucia song itself and a few other Christmassy, it’s-horrid-dark-out-there songs), holding our candle steady. (The first graders carried something else, wands?) We’d start in procession and then fan out into that half-moon around the Lucia bride described in the how-to link. And we sure had to memorise the words! I remember my best friend and I swotting.
    We did three “performances”: one in the evening of the 12th at the local church, then first thing in the morning at school on the 13th (it has always been my understanding that that is “correct” time: before sunrise on the 13th, which isn’t hard in Scandinavia at that time of year), and then an afternoon at a local retirement home the next day.
    Oddly enough, the saffron buns that are an essential part of proceedings in Sweden hadn’t made it along with the rest of the tradition, so we handed out Christmas cookies.
    The actual history and significance of St Lucia wasn’t discussed much that I recall. This was an important Christmas tradition about bearing light and hope in the dark, but that was about it. On the other hand, how many parents teach their kids about St Nicholas before taking them to the local shopping centre Santa Claus?
    I was also in the procession at preschool, where we just carried bowls of cookies. But the teacher who was the Lucia Bride had actual candles on her head, from memory (electric is rather safer!).

  3. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing, Aqua.

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