The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by the sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia
As much as I love the holidays – the lights, the food, the odd and quirky traditions that make up the collage of our personalized Christmases – the harder they seem to get as I grow older. I long more than anything to hug my parents and brothers, spend time with grandma, have drinks with my friends. I am, to put it mildly, extremely homesick.
Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. St Lucia was a young girl who was martyred in 304 AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name. St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head (we usually use real candles, because we’re badass like that).
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.
I wish I had an old picture of the Lucia celebrations from my kindergarten days – there was always several Lucia’s, her maids, gingerbread men, tiny Santa’s and elves. I love the Lucia celebrations, always have – it’s at the top together with Midsummer’s Eve and Valborg on my list of favorite holidays.
So if you see me this Sunday, with my hair full of bright lights and singing Swedish songs with notes I couldn’t hit if my life so depended on it, don’t be alarmed! I’m just celebrating that the lights are will be returning, whether it’s by sunlight, Christmas lights or candles on my head.