Luciadagen (Santa Lucia Day)


On 13th December Scandinavians commemorate Luciadagen the so-called “Festival of Lights” celebrating Santa Lucia. This stems from the fourth-century martyrdom of the Italian Saint Lucia and is an important winter celebration in Scandinavian countries. In earlier centuries the Norse celebrated the winter solstice, but after converting to Christianity sometime around 1000 AD, they incorporated the legend of Santa Lucia into their celebrations. Having long, dark winters with areas above the Arctic Circle not seeing the sun for up to 2 months, may have influenced them to commemorate a saint associated with light. The modern festival combines elements of both pagan and Christian traditions.

It is believed that Lucia took food and water to Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome to avoid persecution from the Romans who worshipped pagan gods. Being underground the catacombs were dark. Unable to carry the supplies and a lantern, legend has it that Lucia designed a version of a headlamp, wearing a wreath of candles on her head to light her way. She was killed by in 304 AD after refusing to give up her vow of chastity and marry a pagan.

Celebrations Today

Nowadays on December 13th towns in Scandinavia mark the day with a procession of children, dressed in white tunics with lit candle wreaths on their heads to symbolise Lucia’s headlamp. Younger children tend to wear imitation candles or tinsel. As the procession progresses, the song Santa Lucia is sung along with traditional songs. The procession will be led by a girl who has been chosen to be the town’s Santa Lucia. The festival is meant to bring hope and light at the darkest time of the year. At home, families observe the festival by having one of their daughters (usually the eldest) dress in white and serve lussekattar (saffron bread) and coffee to symbolize Lucia bringing food and water to those in hiding.

With strong Nordic connections, it’s not surprising that Orkney has adopted the tradition, incorporating a Santa Lucia or St. Lucy (the English version) procession into the Kirkwall  Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

We wish all our Scandinavian staff and students a happy Luciadagen and you can use Library Search to learn more about traditions, festivals and saints.

Let’s not forget our Italian staff and students because although the modern-day celebration of Santa Lucia is generally associated with Scandinavian countries. It is also observed in some parts of Italy, Lucia’s homeland. The feast is a Catholic celebrated holiday with roots that can be traced back to Sicily. St. Lucia is the patron saint of the Sicilian city of Syracuse.

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Read more about Christmas traditions on out blog with the article: Spanish New Year

By Vivienne Hamilton

Photo by Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash