|In 284, a baby girl was born to a prosperous family of nobility in Syracuse, a tiny island off Sicily. They christened her Lucia, a name derived from LUX, which meant light.
Her father died when she was an infant. She was raised by her Christian mother and lived in an area when it was the way of life to marry and have children. Her mother had found a husband for her but Lucia refused to marry him because he was not a Christian.
When Lucia was a teenager, her mother began to hemorrhage. Taking her ill mother, the two went to the tomb of St. Agatha. Here they offered their prayers. Unknown to anyone, including her mother, she vowed to God that if her mother were restored to good health, she would sell her dowry and devote her life to feeding the poor. Her mother was restored. Lucia went on to minister to the poor.
All of this took place shortly after Christ was crucified. Christianity was now in it’s infancy. The Roman emperor was afraid of this new religion and his empire was beginning to crumble. All famines, floods, wars and other disasters were blamed on the Christians. In 303 Galerius and Maximian ordered the destruction of all Christian churches and books, they were forbidden to hold public office and if they were caught worshipping, punishment would be death. Therefore, many Christians were crucified.
Lucia, determined to keep her vow to God, sold her dowry for food. Many of the Christians were hiding in caves. In order to free her hands to serve, she strapped torches to her head.
Lucia’s suitor was outraged because not only had he lost her but her rich dowry. He went to the authorities and told them she was a witch.
Legend is that when the soldiers tried to move her, they could not. It was as if she were made of stone. The judge ordered her burnt at the stake but the fire would not light. Finally the Judge ordered the solider to thrust his sword into her throat. Lucia joined the other martyrs at age 20.
In the middle ages, the Feast of St. Nicolaus was celebrated on December 6. A priest or monk was dressed like an old saint and leading a chain, representing the devil, went from home to home delivering gifts to good children. If they had been bad, they were given a stone. It was a way of ridding the home of the devil. When Christianity gained popularity, this Feast was frowned upon. St. Nicolaus became the forunner of the present day Santa Clause.
It is believed that during the more peaceful trading missions of the Vikings, they brought home stories of Christian martyrs, Lucia’s story was one of them. Now the embellishments and additions would begin. A story is told that Sweden suffered a sever famine. At the worst point of the famine and the cold, dark winter, a ship sailed into the harbor from the stormy waters of Lake Vannern. At the bow of the boat was radiant Lucia dressed in white with a soft glow around her head. She had come with a shipload of food for the hungry. She distributed the food with a gentle and free hand.
It is believed that the artisans, traders and nobles from Germany or possibly England, Ireland and southern Europe brought the Lucia tradition to Sweden.
Under the Julian calendar which was used in Sweden until the early 1300’s, the 13th of December was the longest night and the shortest day of the year. The Gregorian calendar shifted the winter solstice to December 20. Through the years of legends and folklore, the Swedish began to honor Lucia on December 13. Early in the morning the oldest daughter is dressed in a white robe with a red sash at her waist. In her hair she wears a wreath of candles. On her breakfast tray is saffron buns, coffee and pepperkaker. As she leaves the kitchen on her way to the family’s bedrooms, she begins to sing, “Santa Lucia”. She serves breakfast to the family. This tradition is celebrated throughout Sweden in homes, churches and business. The custom has spread and is now celebrated in all parts of the world.