Tuesday, December 9, 2008

St. Lucy

Being raised in a Protestant family in the Midwest, I was until recently,
unaware of the history and background of many saints, which I now
find fascinating. As I was putting a St. Lucy ornament on tree, a gift
from The Netherlands, I realized I knew nothing about her and thought
it might be an interesting post. Saint Lucy was born to a noble family
in late third century Sicily. When she refused to marry a pagan, he
denounced her to the governor, who condemned her to death. It is said
that her eyes were plucked out and presented to her suitor before her
death, since he had always admired them. (Ick!!) Because her name
means "light" she soon became the great patron saint of the "light of
the body", the eyes. Under the Gregorian calender, her feast day fell
on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. Now it is observed
on December 13, where in Sweden, the eldest daughters of a
household, kick off the Christmas season by dressing in white gowns
and wear wreaths of candles on their heads as they awaken the family
with coffee, pastries and song. It sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Here is Swedish artist, Carl Larsson's depiction of St. Lucy's day,
Lucia, 1908. Funny, it reminds me of Goya's candle hat. Below is
a Swedish girls choir singing the charming Santka Lucia.


  1. Interesting information and photos to go with.

    P.S. I also mix Cheerios and fibers of some kind! Lol!

  2. A few years ago my daughter chose St Lucy as her saint for confirmation. As a Confirmation Leader I asked my group of teens to research their saints and know of there origin, day of celebration and any other important information they could find. I had them start at the begining of our faith journey, so they would have plenty of time to make their decisions. Proudly, I can say my kids from those three years of teaching, can all tell you about their saint names!

  3. I've been fascinated with the Festival of St. Lucia since I was a child. It was something with her wearing that crown on her head, I'm sure!

  4. I was wondering about the eyes/leaves in the top painting, and then read further about the eye plucking. 'Ick' is right. A fascinating story though.

    I like the idea of being awakened with coffee, pastries and song...but the candles on the head I can do without! A lovely image, but fire next to hair does not sound good to me!

  5. Beautiful post!
    kari & kijsa

  6. So much sadness in the name of religion...is something lost in translation...and it continues today...keep the people in fear and you will have the control, whatever happened to love and compassion?

  7. What would the health and safety police have to say about those hats?

    Interesting story, thank you.

  8. I'm taking pleasure, to see you to provide yourself with you daily necessaries!!!!
    Barbara C...

  9. Ooh, what lovely images... I'm such a big fan of Carl Larsson - he's one of my faves. I love to read the little blurb - what I'm eating, drinking, reading etc... so fun! Happy Tuesday.

  10. I never knew this history! A beautiful tradition...I have my coffee in bed each morning...now I just need someone to bring me pastries by candlelight! Something tells me I'd be pushing it to ask The Mister! tee-hee!

    Love Carl Larsson!

  11. This is such a pretty tradition - though a bit gruesome in the original.
    I think I might have set fire to my hair.....
    You have 324 followers? WOW!

  12. I remember reading about this for the first time when I was reading the American Girl books in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

    Kirsten Larsen's family came from Sweden and traveled to the midwest. The Christmas story in the Kirsten series involves the celebration of St. Lucia's Day. They did celebrate it on the Winter Solstice, though. The day where the most light was needed :)

    Another interesting little tidbit is that Lucy's name means "light" :)

  13. Thanks for posting this picture - I just adore this sort of thing.
    Like you, I do not know a great amount about saints as such, but the pictures always fascinate me.
    Thank you!

  14. interesting - again you have informed - I don't know about the candle thingy on the head though - wax in the hair or the candles going out as you walk and having to relight the things and then the possibility of a hair fire!

  15. Thank you for the information. I knew nothing about St. Lucy.

  16. To Sweet Repose's comment, in this case it was in the name of paganism!...And one can think of the 60 million murdered last century in it the name of communism, in Russia alone! Sad inded.

    Willow, fascinating. Trust oyu to write about this. I knew about the charming tradition--so beautiful, but didn't know the gory details of her sad end! Incredible. Beauty for pain. Fitting, really.

  17. That was wonderful. Thank you. saints certainly have some sick stories behind them- and stories they are. Religions it seems have the sickest tales- great for convincing and controlling those who wish to learn from the mistakes of others, I suppose, but would find it difficult to get through censorship these days. AND that is one great hat! A toasting marshmallows hat! AND PLEASE no hair spray.

  18. Where I worked in Holland, the Swedish colleagues would go around singing and bearing such hats but the Head of Security banned the tradition as being a risk hazard.
    If saints interest you you could read the Golden Legend (although there is also a great deal of information in The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire).

  19. Oh, man, Willow--I was raised Catholic so I've heard so many of the stories of the saints' lives and they're each more horrific than the last, aren't they? No wonder they became saints! They sure deserved that. I love the Larsson painting--have always been enamored of his interiors.

  20. I wonder how many of these stories behind the saints is actually absolutely true. Call me an old irreligious cynic but I take things like this with a proverbial pinch of salt.

    If you think about things like the Turin Shroud having been proven to be a fake, then it doesn't take too great a leap of faith (odd phrase in this context actually)to start doubting everything of this nature.

    But the pictures are pretty, as is the name Lucy.

  21. Very nice post about St. Lucy! The pictures are beautiful!

  22. Willow,
    I regret to admit that I, born in the bosom of catholic saintsville on the Saint Lawrence River, know very little about Saints.
    I loved the choir rendition and remember one time when we were in Boston's Little Italy we were witness to the parade celebrating Santa Lucia.

  23. how awful to die that way just because she wouldn't marry a pagan

  24. Wow.... she fits right into the holiday season. Thanks for sharing interesting discoveries!!
    The Bach

  25. Hi there!
    I just came across this blog by chance and figured I had to comment. I happen to be Swedish and since I was born and raised in this country I grew up with the Lucia tradition. It's a nice one, indeed. As for safety issues little kids have electric lights in their crowns and older girls/women carry the real candles. You keep a damp cloth over your hair for protection and you need to have a steady, slow walk.

    The only danger I have seen is when you get hot candle-grease running down your face and you have to keep singing...

    It's a nice blog you have here!
    Cheers /Åsa

  26. What an interesting blog. I just discovered you on Blogs of Note. It's always so much fun to click on and find a treasure. Will visit again.
    Catherine from 'A Thousand Clapping Hands'

  27. Funny how plucking out the eyes gets transformed into a crown of candles!

    I knew about the St. Lucia day tradition, but nothing about the saint who inspired it. Adding to my store of Xmas lore . . .

  28. Diva, Jeane, Elizabeth, Linda Sue--Right, definitely no hairspray. A hair fire would be tragic!!

    Rel, of all people, I thought you would be an expert on the saints!

    Asa--Thanks for sharing some first hand info on this lovely tradition! I can imagine hot candle wax on the face wasn't too pleasant, though.

  29. I too was raised Protestant, but have always had a fascination with Saints and the rituals of the Catholic church. thanks for the info on St. Lucy. I just love Carl Larrson's paintings. So filled with family togetherness. Wow, congrats on being a Blog of Note. You deserve such an honor. Be well, suki

  30. Interesting post about the history of a saint! Hope you had fun decorating your tree. Have a fantastic Christmas season. Check out www.thegiftrevolution.com.

  31. I didn't know this story but I was familiar with the candles, I just didn't know why. I guess one learns to hold their head very still what with wax dripping. I think all my Norwegian relatives were too busy trying to be Americans and the traditions were lost, except for the food!ha The singing was beautiful.

  32. Willow, very interesting. The term for removing the eyes is an enucleation. I wonder how I know that.

    I, too, find the saints fascinating. Your posts are always so pretty and educational.

  33. Just discovered your blog, and what a treat it is ...! My daughter has an American Girl Kirsten doll and she has a beautiful St Lucia dress. Thanks for the info on St Lucy!

  34. When I look at the candles on the head, I can't help but remember the time I was in high school with an earache. My aunt Marge used an ear candle on me, which felt really good until my newly-permed hair caught on fire.

  35. Thank you for that tribute. I named my daughter after her. Lucia to be exact. And she is the light of this household. She shines so brightly!

  36. The origins of names are fascinating, I often wondered about the origin of Terrence. As in Terrence Howard or Stamp.

    I have yet to have met a Terrence, although I have met a Terry. Which I guess is a variant of Terrence, which is a variant of Terence.

    Terence is an English name, which was taken from the Roman family name of Terentius which is of unknown meaning. Although it too, has been associated with early Saints. That's all.

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  38. Oh I love choirs at Christmas. Beautiful video and thanks for the history lesson.

  39. Sancta Lucia has always been one of our favourites although our beliefs do not follow anydenomination, So on Sat, the 3th. I'll be heading down the hill to the celebration of our daughter's half century carrying a lantern with a candle in it as we are in the season of total fire banns.
    Nice post.

  40. Now that is interesting church history. When I was in Sweden a number of years ago I admired charming little statuettes with the crown of leaves and candles. Sadly they were too expensive to buy.

  41. What if their hair catches on fire? :\

  42. Sounds a lot lovelier than poor St. Lucy's fate. I used to enliven daily (required) Mass at school by reading the ghastly stories of martyrs in the back of the Missal. Now I avoid horror stories of all kinds, if possible.

  43. The part about the eye plucking kinda ruined my blueberry danish this morning. I think I'll stick with St. Lucille Ball.

  44. Wonderful post, Willow. I learned something new and this is an importnat part of life.

  45. Oh - that explains why there is a statue of Saint Lucy at my eye dr's! I was raised protestant as well and missed out on many of these meanings.

  46. Wearing a crown of flaming candles on your head would seem to call for excellent posture and a fair amount of courage.

    Makes for a beautiful image though!

  47. I always carry a St.Lucy's eyes medal with me that my grandmother got for me. I don't know about wearing candles as a crown, I am a bit chicken.

  48. It is actually a very nice tradition we have here in Sweden I think. I usually don't do it at home, but at school we did it every year.
    And as there should only be one Lucia in the celebration, the rest of us only had a string of glitter in our hair and a candle in the hand (and the gown ofc). So usually all the girls walked around with glitter in their hair all day, looked quite nice actually :)

  49. Willow,

    If you are interested in saints and food, then you should check out this blog that talks all about foods you can make for Feast Days and celebrations of saints. There is an excellent recipe inspired by St. Lucy you might enjoy.


    I greatly enjoy your blog. Thanks!


  50. Sara M, nice to hear some more first hand info from a native Swede! It's a fascinating tradition.

    Natalie, thanks for the link! That St. Lucia bread recipe looks heavenly! I must try it.

  51. Willow, it's great that you're discovering the Saints. Being an Anglo-Catholic, I find St. Hilda of Whitby to be fascinating as well. ;^)

    Wonderful post and great clip....

  52. Carl Larsson and his equally talented wife Karin is something we Swedes are in general very proud of, I visited his old house now turned museum some years back and it was such an inspirational treat. Though smaller than one might imagine.

    Lucia is quite a lovely tradition, though it has nothing to do with the eldest daughter or kicking off the Xmas season. Anyone who likes can "play" Lucia at home and at daycares, schools and such someone is chosen for the role. The Lucia crowns are often electrical for safety reasons. And we kick off our Xmas season at Advent Sunday already.

    The downside of the Lucia celebration is has also became, over the years, festivities with a whole lot of teenage drunkeness and disorder.

    Oh, this was a looong comment:) Love your pretty header!
    Cheers from Stockholm, Sweden

  53. Pia, I am so very envious! I would love to visit the Larsson homestead some day. You should be very proud of his and Karin's work.

  54. I think my father still has an icon of her...

  55. OMG ... I want to wear a wreath of candles on my head, and sing and dole out pastries. It does sound LOVERLY!!!!

  56. wow, very interesting, never new what the festival st.lucy was till today

  57. This is.,,,, a sincronicity! we have talk on Saint Lucy! together!!

  58. I loved this post. As a Swedish ex-pat i don't really get to celebrate this beautiful holiday tradition anymore (not really one of those solo-set ups). Thanks for gorgeous post!

  59. I didn't realise when St Lucy's day was...and I missed it. Shucks. I got to play her when I was a little girl at school...but I have my suspicions there may have been other reasons than my acting skills!!

  60. Wonderful post. Wondeful pictures...In the Catholic tradition we celebrate St Lucy's day as well.

    click the link to view the readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St Lucy


    thanks Willow!!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)