As a child my mother would tell us about Saint Lucia. The story intrigued as did the idea of the crown of candles. The Swedish song about Lucia tells us that she comes “through the darksome night” wearing a white garment and a crown of light. Her day is observed on December 13th.
Santa Lucia Day is mainly a Scandanavian celebration, which is also observed in Northern Europe and Italy as well as Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia, these last three countries being my ancestral roots. Some other countries that honour Santa Lucia are Malta, Croatia and Bavaria as well as the United States, Faroe Islands and the Caribbean island of Santa Lucia. Co- incidentally we have a suburb in Brisbane called Santa Lucia.
Santa, (Sankta) , Lucia Day is a forunner to Christmas celebrations. Lucia was said to be an early Christian martyr around the time of the fourth century A.D) from Sicily who helped the poor and was killed for her faith in the time of the persecutions of Diocletian. She is the patron saint of Sicily and also of vision, said to have sacrificed her own eyes.
However, it seems that Lucia could have a much older pagan origin as a light bringer connected to Winter Solstice, when the rebirth of the sun was such a significant turning point in the year and vital for survival. John Donne’s poem, “A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day”, connects her to Solstice and the notion that in the former Julian Calendar December 13th could have been the Winter solstice. Donne begins “Tis the year’s midnight and is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; The sun is spent” … http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173378. Essentially and simply Donne is saying that Lucy Night, is the longest day and shortest night
The name Lucy means light and as such has links to various archetypes from ancient myths who honour light bringers. It has also been noted by others that in ancient Greece and Rome there were several goddesses who carried symbolic flames, for instance Hecate, Lucina, and aspect of Juno called Juno Lucina. These three Goddesses also are midwives and, as such, then Lucy would perhaps act as midwife to the new light, the baby sun (son), who is birthed at Yule, which reminds me of the Gaelic account of Brigid as midwife to Mary).
Another connection that reveals an origin with pagan customs is that torchlight or candlelight processions are held on her day, as well as the lighting of bonfires which were lit to help strengthen the sun and to ward off evil. In this case her connection is as a Solar entity and her flame offers guidance, healing and protection as well as renewal. Light and dark again connected, her light piercing the darkness to allow the sun’s warmth to assist new growth- her light being vital to fertility and new life.
The custom of offering Lusserkattor, saffron buns, or Lucy’s cats, would seem to be a hint that somewhere Freya is included in her history. Freya also was a very radiant and luminous Nordic Goddess dressed in white and dearly beloved and honoured in Nordic mythology as well as being an aspect of love and fertility, similar to the aspect of Greek Aphrodite.
To me it seems that Lucy is a combination of cultures and myths and that her origins are very ancient connected to the cycles of the year and the importance of the sun in agriculture, especially in the Northern Hemisphere where winters are very long and very dark. Her story goes back much before the Christianised tale, with links to Nordic folklore and customs that continue though the passage of time to colour our lives and enhance our perception and connection with the mysteries of the universe.
The various customs new and old are summarised on Wiki and you will also find many accounts on the net describing the stories and traditions from various perspectives. On you tube there are beautiful renditions of songs dedicated to her,including the more recent Italian versions. This account is just a synopsis of impressions from many sources and from the tales my mother told me.
Creating Lucia was a long held desire and a very joyful experience. This little Lucy is young and dreamy, signifying innocence and purity and the light of hope and promise that shines in many different belief systems. My wish is that She radiates light, joy and love into the celebrations of her new family.
While She was being created what came to mind was a teaching by Buddha, when he talked of how thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and not diminish the light of the candle. A reminder that love and happiness never decreases by being shared. Light and Lucy Day are happy, festive occasions to also remind us to find and be joyful for the gift of life.