| (There are several
versions of the story of Lucia but this is a nice one!)
Lucia was an Italian girl, born in Sicily in the 3rd century A.D. It was a time when the Romans were persecuting Christians, and Lucia's family was Christian. When her father died, Lucia vowed to remain unmarried and to serve God, but since she didn't tell anyone about this vow, her widowed mother went ahead and promised her in marriage to a suitor who was not a Christian. Lucia said no thanks, I'd rather be an old maid, and she proceeded to give her dowry away to the poor. The young man's pride was severely injured, so he reported Lucia to the Roman authorities and she was tried and convicted of being a Christian. The judge decided that a suitable punishment for a woman who wanted to remain chaste was to be sold into slavery - to a brothel. But when the soldiers came to take her away, they were unable to move her! Rather than being awed by this, they proceeded to pour oil over her and set her on fire. The oil burned - Lucia did not! Still unimpressed, the soldiers beat and tortured her and tried to get her to deny her Christian faith, but she refused. So they stuck a sword into her throat and that did kill her. She died a martyr's death on December 13, 304 A.D. For her faithfulness, she was made a saint.
How did a Sicilian saint become a part of Swedish tradition? Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages, the Swedish province of Varmland was experiencing a terrible famine and people were starving to death. On the longest night of the shortest day of the year - which also happened to be St. Lucia's Day, December 13th - a light suddenly appeared on Lake Vanern. It was a large white boat filled with food, and at the helm was a beautiful young woman in a white gown wearing a crown of lights. Lucia had come to rescue the Swedes! As soon as the ship was unloaded, it disappeared.
Swedish custom is that on Santa Lucia Day, mother and children get up very early in the morning to make the traditional Lussekatter (rolls made with saffron) and Luciapepparkakor (ginger cookies). The oldest daughter portrays Lucia dressed in a long white robe with a red sash with a crown of lit candles on her head. She carries the tray of food as she leads the procession of mother and the other children who sing the traditional Santa Lucia song as they march to the father's room.
Traditionally, the winner of the Noble Prize in Literature has the supreme honor of crowning Stockholm's Santa Lucia. Traditionally, miracles can happen at midnight on the eve of St. Lucia's Day and animal may talk. Traditionally, the cook buries the lutefisk in beech ashes on St. Lucia's Day. You don't have to be Swedish to celebrate Santa Lucia - Lucia wasn't a Swede! Välkommen! Varsågod!