Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa Lucia

I often lament that Lutherans and members of other churches that arose at the time of the Reformation have forgotten some of the traditions that help us to remember the saints who have gone before us.  Among some Lutheran churches, though, today is an exception to that trend, as traditions associated with the feast of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy) remain popular among many Lutherans, particularly in Scandinavia, as well as here in America among churches of Swedish descent.

According to the tradition, Lucia (whose name means "light") was martyred in Sicily around 310 A.D., during one of the last major periods of Christian persecution before Constantine became emperor and legalized Christianity a few years later.  Several centuries later, when Christianity spread to Northern Europe, her story and name took on special meaning there, because she represents light during the darkest time of year, around the winter solstice.  

To this day in Scandinavia, she is remembered on her feast day through festivals where a person - oftentimes a young girl - will be dressed in a white dress and red sash with a crown or wreath of candles on her head. The person representing Lucia will sometimes also carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung.  

As I have written about before, the number of people who still attend worship in Scandinavia has dwindled drastically in recent decades.  But, there are still signs of light in the darkness, and the continued celebration of Santa Lucia is one of them.  Here is a video of a beautiful rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" sung at the Lutheran Cathedral in Stockholm, where you can see some of the traditions associated with the Santa Lucia festival.


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