Today, we continue our Saints and Stories Christmas series with the story of Saint Lucia. This Saturday, December 13th is Saint Lucia Day, therefore, it is fitting we tell her story…
Lucia was an Italian girl, born in Sicily in the 3rd century A.D. It was a time when the Romans were persecuting Christians, and Lucia’s family was Christian. When Lucia’s father died, Lucia vowed to remain unmarried and to serve God alone, but since she didn’t tell anyone about this vow, her widowed mother went ahead and promised her in marriage to a suitor who was not a Christian. Some legends tell us that Lucia’s mother was healed the night of Lucia’s obedience to God.
Lucia refused to break her oath to God and told her mother she would not be marrying anyone. Lucia collected and gave away her rich dowry of jewels and other fine things to the poor.
There are many accounts of what happened next, here is one telling of the remainder of the story.
The young man, who she had been promised to, was infuriated. His pride must have been severely injured, so he reported Lucia to the Roman authorities. Lucia was tried and convicted of being a Christian and dishonoring the marriage laws. The judge decided that a suitable punishment for a woman who wanted to remain chaste was to be sold into slavery – to a brothel. But when the soldiers came to take her away, they were unable to move her! The soldiers retaliated and many horrible things happened to Lucia in those days that followed. We are not sure of all the particulars that happened to her during those few days, what we do know is that she died a martyr’s death on December 13, 304 A.D. and for her faithfulness, she was made a saint.
How did a Sicilian saint become a part of Swedish tradition? Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages, the Swedish province of Varmland was experiencing a terrible famine and people were starving to death. On the longest night of the shortest day of the year – which also happened to be St. Lucia’s Day, December 13th – a light suddenly appeared on Lake Vanern. It was a large white boat filled with food, and at the helm was a beautiful young woman in a white gown wearing a crown of lights. Lucia had come to rescue the Swedes! As soon as the ship was unloaded, it disappeared.
Swedish custom is that on Santa Lucia Day, mother and children get up very early in the morning to make the traditional Lussekatter (rolls made with saffron) and Luciapepparkakor (ginger cookies). The oldest daughter portrays Lucia dressed in a long white robe with a red sash with a crown of lit candles on her head. She carries the tray of food as she leads the procession of mother and the other children who sing the traditional Santa Lucia song as they march to the father’s room.
Traditionally, St. Lucia day is about expecting the unexpected. It is about expecting miracles, and it is about the power of light to pierce the darkness. This is consistent with the Scandinavian tradition that Christmas is about light as the antidote to darkness.
I pray you are enjoying this Advent season and I wish you rest, joy, and peace.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,