December 13 is St Lucia’s Day, notably celebrated in the Lutheran countries of Scandinavia, as part of a traditional cycle of observances during the Advent season. The festival honors an early Christian martyr, who died for the faith under Diocletian. The Latin name Lucia means “light.” And because the festival takes place on what was traditionally observed as the shortest day of the year, at the winter solstice, it is marked by symbolism of light and hope in darkness.
The Anglican poet John Donne wrote, “A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day,” around 1627. The first stanza begins:
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk…
In Sweden each town elects a St Lucia from among the girls. In a household the eldest daughter takes the roll. She wears a white robe and a crown of evergreen boughs surmounted with candles.
Pictured above: an illustration of the headdress by John Bauer, dated 1913.