Imagine being woken up by your first-born daughter serving you coffee and sweet rolls in bed, dressed in white with a red sash around her waist, adorned with a wreath of lighted candles on her head?
Could you be so blessed?!
This is the tradition of Santa Lucia Day, celebrated yearly on December 13th. It is generally associated with Sweden and Norway, but celebrated in many other countries as well. We celebrated Santa Lucia and her life this past Sunday — the first time I have ever been a part of a Santa Lucia ceremony.
Stories differ depending on the source but most begin in Sicily where Lucia’s mother, a wealthy woman, had been miraculously cured of an illness after which Lucia persuaded her mother to give her wealth to the poor. Together the two of them would distribute food and supplies to poor Christians. This was during the time where Christians were suffering at the hands of the Roman Emperor Diocletian so their work was carried out at night in secrecy. In order to carry as much food and as many supplies as possible, Lucia wore a crown of candles on her head. Tradition also tells us that she suffered a terrible death at the hands of the Roman authorities, a death suffered because of her faith.
Modern day celebrations vary according to country, but within homes it is celebrated as I described above: the eldest daughter, dressed in white with a red sash, the wreath of candles on her head, bringing coffee and Santa Lucia rolls.
Like many traditions, the celebration was originally to remember, to commemorate an amazing woman who defied cultural expectations, staying true to a faith she believed with her whole being even as she was suffering a brutal death.
As the story fades through the years what is left is a girl with a white gown, red sash, wreath of candles, and sweet rolls.
It is easy to want the part of the story that we can sweetly imagine — a girl in white, going through the streets helping the poor. But the brutal death is a critical part of the story, a part of the story that makes us shudder and shake our heads.
They go together – the girl in white with the red sash and the brutal death. Tradition has a price tag.
In the same way it’s easy to keep the part of the Christmas story that gives us the baby — babies are soft and sweet, they smell so good. Babies fit into the crook of our arms and we are amazed. Babies rarely make us shudder. But Jesus, the Man? The one with the cross? He requires too much. The man asks that we have his mind, are conformed to his death — Jesus the Man turns our world upside down and inside out.
They go together – the baby in the manger and the Man on the Cross. Tradition has a price tag.
On this Santa Lucia day I want to remember that tradition has a price tag.
3 thoughts on “Santa Lucia – Tradition Has a Price Tag”
If I remember correctly, Santa Lucia wears the white of the Saints and the red of the martyrs. Remembering that helps maintain the depth of the story.
The lowly manger, the flight into Egypt, and the gifts from the magi help me remember the depths and heights of Jesus ministry.
Thanks for reminding me to think more deeply.
Ahhh – YES! So right. I love your second paragraph. I’d never thought of it that way. Thank you and blessing back to you!
A small correction.
The white gown is worn because Santa Lucia is believed to be an angel. The red to depict the wound she was ultimately killed by. The procession is traditionally barefoot, to illustrate faith and humbleness, and she brings light in her hair to be able to transport food with her hands. If she does not carry food (usually in public procession), her hands are folded with the fingers pointing upwards.
This is a Scandinavian tradition, not just Swedish.
In Denmark, the procession is not carried along by ordinarywalking, but by ‘striding’ … taking right foot forward, stop, left foot forward, stop, left foot forward, stop, and right foot forward, stop. This makes the Lucia procession follow the rhythm of the song, which is a waltz.