Today is a very special day in my home country of Sweden. It is called “Lucia Dagen” (Lucia Day). Growing up, this was one of the most exciting days of the year. We rose early, dressed in our white Lucia gowns, fixed our hair nicely under glitter “halos,” and went out on the town to sing songs for everybody from teachers, to factory workers, to Freemasons. In the evening, the whole town gathered at the local Lutheran church for an evening of candlelight and music.
My Version of the St. Lucia Story
There are countless, slightly varying, stories about how this day came to be. However, the story I like to tell goes something like this:
Lucia grew up in Syracuse, Sicily in the 4th century. She was a Christian and when her mother became ill, she prayed to the saints that they would make her mother better. In return, she took a vow of virginity. Her mother was healed, so Lucia had to follow through on her virginity vow. Instead of marrying her fiancée, she took the money for her dowry and used to help the starving Christians in hiding. Legend goes that she would wear a wreath of candles on her head to light the way as she walked through the catacombs carrying food. Her fiancée didn’t quite like this turn of events and reported her to the powers at be. The officials captured Lucia, poked out her eyes, and forced her to work in a brothel. When she refused the work, her captors tried to kill her by burning her at the stake, but the fire wouldn’t touch her. Not until they stabbed her, did she die (hence the red sash around the waste of many modern lucias, symbolizing the blood).
She became a saint and her story was wide-spread by the 6th century.
St. Lucia in Sweden
It’s unclear how this tradition got picked up in Sweden. Some say that the St. Lucia equivalent in Sweden was a wealthy young woman from Värmland, Sweden (where, incidentally, I was born) who dressed in a white gown, wore candles on her head, and brought food to the poor along the lake of Vänern.
During the darkest day of the year (per the old calendar), St. Lucia became a symbol of light and hope. Unfortunately, today St. Lucia has become somewhat commercialized and more of a beauty contest than a reminder to take care of those who have less.
Simple Living Lessons from St. Lucia
As an adult, my favorite part of the various legends about St. Lucia is her generosity. In all versions, she is more about giving than taking. She gives away her dowry and provides food to the poor. She clearly chooses to live a life of voluntary simplicity in order for others to have more.
There is a sense of compassion associated with this mystical, white-robed beauty. I feel like our modern-day life doesn’t leave room for compassion. We’re too tired and overworked to have time or energy to think about others. Living simply can open up room for compassion.
St. Lucia isn’t worried about what other people think. She boldly goes against the conventions of the time by refusing her fiancée and spending her dowry. Simple living is about going against the grain. It’s about daring to be different and not having all the latest “gadgets.” You might offend some people. It’s OK.