Marja-Leena Rathje
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Santa Lucia

Illustration by Satomi Ichikawa in Merry Christmas - Children at Christmastime around the world (Wm.Heinemann, 1983)

in white dresses and red sashes.....

Today is Santa Lucia's Day, celebrated by the Swedish and other Nordic communities. As I wrote a few years ago,

Lucia is the only saint celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes, Finns, Danes, and Norwegians, in celebrations that retain many pre-Christian elements of a midwinter light festival. Her feast day in the West is December 13, by the unreformed Julian calendar the longest night of the year. Lucia also means light, so this is a festival of lights in the dark northern countries. I find it fascinating how the many religious and pagan traditions meld and transform over time into our modern day celebrations.

A young maiden chosen as Lucia wears a white dress and red sash with a crown of candles and greens and leads a procession of other maidens in the same dresses minus the head candles. These processions may be in churches, schools and community halls including at our Scandinavian Centre last weekend and even as parades through towns and cities. Helsinki has an annual parade through the city.

Living in Canada, Lucia has been fairly unknown to me until reading and writing about it here the first time, and again here. The more I read, the more versions and interpretations I find. I rather like this one by Kalle Bergman.

If you aren't already overwhelmed by too many links.... I keep thinking about light festivals, of which there are so many variations around the world... I love this spectacular one put on by Mother Nature. And listen to this beautiful Sancta Lucia song sung by Karita Mattila, the famous Finnish soprano. Happy Santa Lucia Day!

Marja-Leena | 13/12/2011 | 6 comments
themes: Culture, Current Events, Finland, Estonia & Finno-Ugric


I may have seen the picture you've posted on one of your older Lucia posts. I looked a few weeks ago and then watched a video of last year's parade in Helsinki. It really does sound like a wonderful and magical celebration.

Susan, yes, I reposted an old image because I couldn't find anything new that I liked. Some of the old links have died so I'm glad you found that one working. It does look magical, I wish I could be there for it one day. (Oh, I did mention this in some recent comments, perhaps that was when you visited the link.)

I always remember it, and often someone wishes me 'bonne fete'. I like that you often post for it, and would love to visit Scandinavia, then or at any time.

i keep hearing about santa lucia, it sounds like a wonderful festival and i'd happily trade some of santa claus's dominance for lucia. a friend of mine is danish, and i hear the music they sing on santa lucia day is pretty wonderful x

Happy Solstice. The first image looks like some of the better picture books of my childhood, warm and full of light.

Lucy, it is your 'name' day, isn't that wonderful and the Catholic French would know the saints. Bonne Fete to you!

Elisa, I agree. That must be why I'm fascinated by the other light festivals, even the earlier forms of Santa before the current commercialized one.

Zhoen, thanks. The image is from a lovely illustrated childrens book about Christmas in different countries, one I'd bought when our children were very young, The grandkids enjoy it now. I like to bring out a few such beautifully illustrated books at Christmas even for myself.