Wednesday, 20 December 2006

St. Lucia Day

St. Lucia Day (Sankta Lucia, also known as St. Lucy's Day) is a holiday dedicated to St. Lucy and is observed on December 13. It marks, together with Advent, the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia. It is celebrated in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Italy, Bosnia, and Croatia. Before the reform of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, St. Lucy's Day fell on the winter solstice.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, Lucy (called Lucia) is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where the eldest girl in a family, portraying Lucia, walks, with a crown of candles, ahead of a procession of other women holding a candle each. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take her life. The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song Santa Lucia, still well-known through the recording by Enrico Caruso but, whereas the Italian lyrics describe the beautiful view from the harbour area Santa Lucia in Naples, the various Scandinavian lyrics are fashioned for the occasion, describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness. Each Scandinavian country has their own lyrics in their native tongues although commonly it is the melody of Neapolitan which is used.

The Lucia procession in the home depicted by Carl Larsson in 1908 (illustration, above), the oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents, while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter wears the candle-wreath.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year; schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students; and a national Lucia is elected on national television from regional winners. The regional Lucias will usually visit local shopping malls, old people's homes and churches, singing and handing out ginger snaps. Recently there was some discussion whether it was suitable if the national Lucia was not a blonde Caucasian, but it was decided that ethnicity should not be a problem, and in the year 2000 an adopted non-white girl was crowned the national Lucia