The Festival of Saint Lucia

Swedish Legend

The Festival of St. Lucia, which is traditionally celebrated on December 13, begins the Christmas season in Swedish custom.

The so-called "Festival of Lights" stems from the fourth-century martyrdom of an Italian saint and the incidents which followed. 

A woman named Lucia, which means light, was born to a noble and prosperous family in Sicily.  Her father died when she was young, so Lucia was raised by her mother in the Christian tradition.  When Lucia was a young woman her mother became very ill and Lucia accompanied her to the tomb of St. Agatha.  They offered prayers there, and Lucia vowed that if her mother could be healed she would remain unmarried and devote her life to God.  Lucia's mother was healed.  She revealed her promise vow to her mother, convincing her mother to allow her to give her inheritance, which would have been her dowry, to the poor.  Lucia's mother was touched and grateful for her healing so agreed, but Lucia's suitor was not so cooperative.  Not only had he lost beautiful Lucia, but her generous dowry as well.  He reported Lucia to the government as being a witch and helping the Christians.  Lucia was called before a judge, and was killed because she refused to renounce the Christian faith.  At twenty years old, Lucia became a martyr, and accounts of miracles followed. 

According to Swedish legend, after Lucia's death a ship carrying a maiden "clothed in white and crowned with light" appeared on the shore in the Swedish province of Varmland during a great famine.  The maiden, widely believed to be Lucia, distributed food and clothing to the needy, thus endearing herself to the Swedish people.

Different stories and traditions surround St. Lucia, but all focus on the central themes of service and light.  St. Lucia is celebrated throughout the world, and honored by many cultures.

 In Sweden, Lucia symbolizes the coming end of the long winter nights and the return of light to the world.

Learn more about the Lucia legend and celebration in Sweden.