The Light of Santa Lucia

I have always loved the lights at Christmas time.  I even wrote a blog about them several years ago.  Light brings warmth, hope…and it symbolizes an indescribable longing.  A longing that maybe – just maybe – the Light will overcome the Darkness.    

Is it any wonder light is tied to Christmas?  We longed for a Savior – even the Gentiles had this longing.  We longed for Light to triumph over the Dark forces of this world.

And then the Light of the World came, and He dispelled the Darkness from our souls, giving us the hope of Life (John 8:12).

This longing for light is universal, and never more so than in the winter months, when light (before the advent of electricity) was scarce.  The pagans had their traditions about winter and Light…and God used that in a very special way.  One of those ways was through Santa Lucia…

Growing Up Swedish

Growing up as a Swedish American, my family celebrated Santa Lucia on December 13 every year.  My grandmother made me a white dress, I donned a candled wreath, and carried a platter of meats and cheeses to my family.  When I was a little older, we actually got to LIGHT the candles (I was sooo excited!!). 

We did this, I was told, because Santa Lucia fed the starving peasants of Sweden, which I re-enacted by bringing the food to my starving family.  This wasn’t exactly true, but since my great-grandfather was only seven when he came over from Sweden, the details probably got lost along the way.

But Santa Lucia Day is more than a simple tradition about a ancient young woman.  It’s about light, and it’s meant to point to the Light.

The Legend of Santa Lucia

Lucia was actually Italian. She was a Christian from a wealthy Sicilian family who took a vow of chastity, aiming to spend her life helping the poor.[1] One of her most famous deeds was going to the catacombs to feed the Christians in hiding.  They say “she would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free” to carry food.[2]

But as with many saints, things did not end well for Lucia.  A rebuffed suitor denounced her to the authorities.  After several attempts to kill her, Lucia finally succumbed to the sword on December 13, 304.[3] Historically, this lines up with the severe persecutions carried out by Emperor Diocletian (give or take a year).[4]

Although she lived a short life, the story of her deeds, faith, and death gained her early popularity as a saint. She had “a widespread following before the 5th century,” and “two churches are known to have been dedicated to her in Britain before the 8th century, at a time when the land was largely pagan.”[5]

This is important.  It shows that from the very beginning, Lucia was seen as a faithful follower of Christ. She lived her life pointing to the Light of the World, something her very name (for Lucia means “light”) attested to.  And thus, she became part of the story of Light told in the coldest countries on earth…

Lucia and the North

Today, Lucia is mostly remembered in the Scandinavian countries – the countries were light is scarce during the long winter months.  Her story may have made its way there through missionary monks,[6] although no one quite knows for sure.[7] 

Lucia’s saint’s day *happens* to fall on the Winter Solstice – the longest night of the year.  There must have been established traditions for the  before Santa Lucia took over, but no one seems quite sure what they were, as they have now blended seamlessly into Santa Lucia’s Day.[8]  After all, a day of longing for light seamlessly flows into a story of a girl named after light…and the Light she represented.

Is this wrong?  Secular historians say yes; I say no.  I say that every man-made tradition can be re-appropriated for Christ. After all, God describes Himself as a pine tree,where we can always come and gather what we need (Hosea 14:8).   If He can anticipate our modern tradition of Christmas trees thousands of years in advance (fact: Christmas gifts used to be based on needs, not wants), then he can anticipate the longing for Light in a culture. I’d say He even put it there to point the ancient Scandinavians to Him. The pagan traditions were a shadow of the Truth; but once Truth was known, those same traditions could be used to share the Truth.

A truth our Santa Lucia had a part in bringing to the people of the north.

Why Santa Lucia is Important

The fact is, Santa Lucia is more than a nice story about a girl wearing candles in her hair and bringing food to the needy.  That is what she did; but she only did so because she believed.

The legend doesn’t matter; what matters is that she chose to sacrifice all for Christ.  We stand on the blood of the martyrs before us. They deemed their faith worth fighting for -worth dying horrifically for.  

And no matter what the legends of her deeds say, the fact that she was recognized so early shows that the real Lucia had great faith in Jesus the Messiah.  That baby born in Bethlehem was the Light of the World who died for us, giving hope of Life to a sin-saturated world.

Lucia knew what she was risking. But Lucia chose the risk rather than forsake her True Love.  In the end, the girl named after light brought the Light of Christ to a darkened world, and paid the ultimate price.  And yet, Lucia gained the ultimate reward: union with the Light.

This Christmas, I hope you think of the girl with candles in her hair…but more importantly, I hope you think of the beautiful message she died for: that the Light of the World is worth any sacrifice.

 

Sources

[1] “Saint Lucy,” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Lucy

[2] “Christmas in Sweden,” https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/sweden.shtml

[3] “Saint Lucy,” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Lucy

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Christmas in Sweden,” https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/sweden.shtml

[7] “Lucia,” https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/, “Things you should NEVER say to a Swede on Lucia day,” https://www.thelocal.se/20151209/six-things-not-to-say-on-swedens-lucia-day

[8] “Lucia,” https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/ 

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