St Lucia [tradition/reflection]

Today is December 13th and on this day, here in very protestant and very secular Sweden, almost everyone will, one way or the other, celebrate a rather unknown Sicilian saint called S:t Lucy or Sankta Lucia. She was a young woman who was martyred in Syracuse during the persecutions of the early 4th century. But how have this tradition come to be?

Well, in the old Julian Calendar December the 13th was the day of the  winter solstice, so this was the darkest day of the year. And here in Sweden that really means dark. So as you can imagine this was a day that was feared by many and it was said that the forces of evil were especially active and powerful on this long night. 

How fitting then, that the saint celebrated on that very day had a name which meant the bright or the shining one. Sankta Lucia became a sign of hope, that this darkness that was surrounding them would not last forever. A reminder that perhaps we in our time need as well.

So today in darkened churches, schools, houses, hospitals and care homes Sankta Lucia will come ahead of a procession, singing songs and carols and bringing her light and warmth. She’ll be wearing a white robe to symbolize her pure conscience, a red girdle to symbolize her martyrdom and a crown of lit candles symbolizing the heavenly light which she brings. 

And through her God is calling us to listen to and follow our own conscience, even if that takes us down a difficult and perhaps even dangerous path, but also to follow Sankta Lucia in living life in such a way that when we come we may also bring light to the dark places of our communities and of our world.

So light a candle, and eat a gingerbread cookie and a lussebulle, a saffron bun which Lucia often brings as well, and while doing so remember that remarkable young woman from Syracuse who to this very day still lights up the cold winter’s night of Sweden. I wish you all a happy and blessed Sankta Lucia Day.

Stefan Sundelin is the Vicar of Burs in the Diocese of Visby in the Church of Sweden.