We arrived at Salem Lutheran Church before 7:00 am and took our seats in the candlelit sanctuary. The pews were filled with smiling parishioners, many of whom wore colorful Nordic print sweaters to chase away the extreme cold and to proclaim their Scandinavian pride. My 100% Scandinavian genes were feeling a little envious. After the handbell prelude, we listened while the first verse of the processional song ‘Sankta Lucia’ was sung in Swedish, then joined in for the English version: Night’s heavy footprints lie / ‘Round farm and toil / Spirits shall haunt the world / Shadows on soil / In our dark house at night / Rising with candles bright / Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia // Night’s full of black and gloom / Now hear her swing / Through all our darkened rooms / On her sweet wings / At our door clad in white / Wearing a crown of light / Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) was a young Christian from Syracuse, Sicily who refused to marry her pagan husband and was martyred in 304 A.D. Many legends surround Santa Lucia—that she carried baskets of food to persecuted Christians in the catacombs with a wreath of candles on her head to light the way, and that she appeared after her death at the bow of a ship carrying food to the starving people of Varmland, Sweden. She was clothed in white with a crown of light circling her head. Her feast day is December 13th which coincided with the Winter Solstice during the Julian calendar. Santa Lucia’s Day, the 13th, marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden.
Sweden and at least parts of Finland, Norway, and Denmark celebrate Lucia as the symbol of light and hope during the darkest time of the year. In villages and households, a chosen Santa Lucia carries coffee and pastries—often lussekatter, sweet saffron buns—to villagers and family members. Denmark’s first Lucia procession was held during Nazi occupation of the mid-1940’s to show peaceful resistance and offer a reminder of hope. **
At Salem Lutheran Church, Tomtars and Star Boys, Saint Knut, and Lucia with her Tarnors or handmaidens processed down the aisle with candles and bells and sat at the front of the church during the service. As we sang and prayed, daylight gradually revealed the amazing stained glass window above the alter. After the service, all were invited to the Great Hall for Scandinavian pastries, coffee, and lingonberry glogg!
Today, on this 21st day of December, we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the first Day of Winter. We have reached the shortest day of the year, the longest night. Santa Lucia is celebrated in Sweden and other northern countries as the Lightbringer of faith, hope, and good things to come. Her light shines through the darkness as she brings food for the hungry and needy. She heralds in the Christmas season. On this longest night, I wish for all of us the Light of generosity and compassion, the Light of warm housing and abundant food, the Light of forgiveness and peace, and most of all the Light of Love. May we all be bearers of Light. God Jul!*
*Happy/Merry Christmas in Swedish
**Santa Lucia image from Google images