The Story of St. Lucia
The story of St. Lucia, the symbol of light amid the darkness for Sweden, has many different versions. Although her feast day is celebrated on December 13th in Sweden she was born far away in Southern Italy, in the third century A.D.
St. Lucia’s father was a wealthy nobleman, but he died when she was a baby. Her mother raised her to be a Christian. To be a Christian in those days was against the law and you risked being arrested, tortured and put to death.
St. Lucia grew up loving God very much to take that risk. She loved Him so much that she didn’t want to marry anyone, but her heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. But her mother, Eutychia, didn’t understand this, and she arranged for Lucia to marry a pagan.
After this, Eutychia became very ill. Lucia persuaded her mother to go on pilgrimage with her to St. Agatha’s tomb. There Lucia had a vision. St. Agatha appeared to her and told her God was pleased with her desire to remain a virgin. Eutychia was healed, and Lucia begged her mother not to force her into marriage, but to let her give her dowry away to the poor instead. In those days a girl could not be married without a dowry.
Lucia’s fiance heard that she and her mother were giving away all their belongings to the poor. He was so angry that he went to the governor of the island, Paschasius, and told him that Lucia was a Christian.
Paschasius had Lucia arrested and commanded her to sacrifice to the idols to which she refused. When the soldiers tried to take her away they found they could not move her. They tried pulling her with ropes and several yoke of oxen but to no avail. In a rage, Paschasius ordered her to be burned alive on the spot. The soldiers piled wood all around her and lit the fire. Lucia prayed to God and not a hair was singed on her head. She only glowed with a holy light through the flames. Finally one of the soldiers drove his sword into her throat.
She was buried with honor and became the patron saint of her city, Syracuse.
She is Santa Lucia to the Italians, Sankta Lucia to the Swedes, and St. Lucia or St. Lucy, to all English speakers.(1,2,3)
Why The Swedes Celebrate St. Lucia
The Swedes love St. Lucia because she saved Sweden from a terrible famine. Back in the Middle Ages, the people of southern Sweden were starving. On the darkest day of the most terrible winter of all, they saw a boat sailing toward them across Lake Vannern.
St. Lucia clad in all white and glowing in an unearthly light stood on the ship that had no sails, ors or wind to propel it as it glided to shore.When it reached land she handed out huge sacks of wheat to all the people. The wheat from the boat was enough for bread to last all winter.(1)
St. Lucia Morning In Sweden
Early in the morning of December 13th, the oldest daughter has the privelage of being the Lucia, wearing a long white gown sashed with red, with a wreath of lingonberry leaves on her hair. Candles – now usually battery operated- are set into the wreath. Her sisters wear white gowns with tinsel in their hair and around their waists. Boys in the family wear tall pointed hats with stars on them. The “Starboys” traditionally are associated with the three wise men. The children awaken their parents and offer them coffee, saffron rolls called Lussekatter (Lucy cat buns) and ginger snaps, called pepparkakor. (2)
The wreath of candles is worn because:
St Lucy is the saint of light. (Lucy comes from the Latin word lux, which means light.)
The legend of St. Lucy coming in an unearthly light and saving the the Swedes from famine.
Her feast day falls in the darkest part of winter, so St. Lucia is associated with the return of the light.
A legend states that Lucia used to bring provisions to the Christians hiding in the catacombs and in order to keep her hands free she wore candles on her head.
White dresses are worn to remind us she was a bride of Christ and the red sash is a symbol of martyrdom.
Lussekatter or the Lucy cats are because she brought the wheat in the famine
Starboys are associated with the three wisemen (1,2)
A beautiful Hungarian custom on the feast of St. Lucy is to plant the “Christmas wheat.” The wheat will be sprouted soft green by Christmas. The children can then take it to the creche as a gift for the Child Jesus, symbolic of the Eucharistic bread by which He feeds our souls at the altar. (3)
What I Do/Want to Do/ Will Do
My oldest will be 5, so we content ourselves making Lucy cats and pepperkakkor and reading our St. Lucy stories on her feast day. A certain little girl keeps begging me to make a St. Lucy gown so she can be St. Lucy. I also have great plans to contrive some sort of fabulous wreath crown with battery operated candlesticks in it. Even though I much prefer a real candlestick, a batter operated one might be a bit easier to maneuver in this situation.
Future goals could definitely include Lucia and star boys waking up early and tip toeing through the house to bring mother and father Lucy cats, ginger snaps, and hot coffee in bed. #goals.
My favorite St. Lucy childrens books are Lucia Saint Of Light, and Lucia Morning In Sweden. If you’re looking for an easy and inviting story to engage your children with and share the feast of St. Lucy and/or add another beautiful tradition and feast day leading up to Christmas, I highly recommend them. They also have recipes. and Lucia Morning in Sweden has recipes and dress patterns if you’re good at sewing that is…Which if you are, I may need to hire you to make mine.