Category Archives: Santa Lucia

Sankta Lucia

December 13, and the solstice of Midwinter is but a week away. Until then, the nights grow deeper, longer, darker. In the midst of that growing darkness, we welcome today the next of the Midwinter gift bearers: Saint Lucy, the light bearer, patron saint of those with vision problems and of the blind. She was from Sicily and so she is sacred to Italy, where she is known as Santa Lucia (pronounced loo-chee-a). But she is perhaps best known in Sweden, of all places, where she is called Sankta Lucia (pronounced with a soft C, loo-see-a). For many in Sweden, breakfast today was served in the darkness, which is long there near the Arctic Circle, by a Lucia dressed in white, walking through the house with a wreath of lit candles upon her head, delivering coffee and saffron buns, lussekatter, to the drowsy household. She is usually the oldest daughter.

Our neighbor old Mr. Solderholm, when his young granddaughter was visiting one winter, told her about the tradition of the Sankta Lucia. She was cool about it and didn’t seem too impressed by his tales of what Decembers used to be like, but she did surprise him all the same the next morning, at his bedroom door, in the still and holy darkness, bearing a flashlight, a Coca-Cola, and two Pop Tarts on a platter. Afterwards, he had a splitting headache clear through to lunchtime, but he could not stop talking about this fine thing that his granddaughter had done for him. It is a lovely thing to have this gift of light bestowed upon you.

In Sweden, where Mr. Solderholm’s family is from, there are processions throughout the country tonight celebrating Sankta Lucia, in churches, in schools, in city streets, on national television. The Lucia will be wearing a crown of lit candles on her head, just like the Lucias that delivered breakfast this morning. The processions can get quite large, with scores of attendants to the Lucia: boys and girls each bearing a candle, and then the Star Boys, each carrying stars on poles and donning huge white conical caps. Everyone is dressed in white––“White,” Jane Siberry says, “the color of truth.” The sounds of the procession are a symphony of bells and the Neapolitan melody “Santa Lucia,” but with Swedish lyrics, my favorite part being Natten går tunga fjät, which translates to “The night walks with heavy steps.” Such a beautiful image, and such a beautiful song. You can feel it warming the air, you can feel it bearing light in the darkness. That light and its spirit is what we wish you on this night of heavy steps. And––if you happen to have a Swedish bakery nearby––we wish you lussekatter, as well.


Image: “Sankta Lucia Procession in Denmark.” Photograph by Per Palmkvist Knudsen, 2006 [Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons].


Santa Lucia, Lussekatter, and Star Boys

And now it is St. Lucy’s Day, sacred to Italy and to Sweden. Santa Lucia in Italian, pronounced loo-chee-a; Sankta Lucia in Swedish, with a soft C, loo-see-a. Seth went and got us four lussekatter, traditional Sankta Lucia buns flavored with saffron, from the Swedish bakery in Lantana for our breakfast in the morning. It is nice going to bed knowing that a special treat awaits you at the breakfast table.

Lucia calls down the light at this dark time of year perhaps more strongly than any other saint or gift bearer. Her very name in Italian, Lucia, is rooted in the word luce, which translates to light. Her night, in Sweden, is illuminated with candles. There are great processions in the towns and churches; each has its Lucia and scores of attendants and cone-capped star boys, all of them dressed in white, all of them holding candles, all of them singing the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia,” but in Swedish. It is one of the most beautiful sights you will see, one of the most beautiful songs you will hear.

In Sweden in the darkness of morning breakfast might be brought to you in your room by the Lucia––usually the eldest daughter of the household. Her gift is lussekatter and hot coffee, and she makes her appearance in each room, donning a wreath of glowing candles upon her head. In Italy, the gifts are different. Children will leave hay and carrots in their shoes for Santa Lucia’s donkey, and in return, Santa Lucia will tie little presents to their shoelaces.

Seth’s great aunt was named Lucy. Her father, an immigrant to Maine from Italy, lost his sight in an accident on the railway where he worked. Aunt Lucy was born soon after and named for the patron saint of vision and of the blind. “But I was no saint,” she would confide to us.

But we will think of Aunt Lucy and we will have our coffee and lussekatter and we will have the Santa Lucia song in our heads and on our lips all day and all night, all of these things bringing light––luce––to the Midwinter darkness.


Image: One of four lussekattor we’ll be eating in the morning!


Santa Lucia

It’s late at night on the 12th (actually it is past midnight, so it is the 13th) and in these same overnight hours will arrive the next of the Midwinter gift bearers: Santa Lucia. She will come to homes mainly in Sweden and in Italy. In Italy, where children have left out their shoes and a bit of hay for her donkey, Santa Lucia will tie little presents to their shoelaces. In Sweden, where the nights this time of year are long and dark indeed, the Lucia will be one of the girls of the household, delivering saffron buns and hot coffee to the sleeping occupants, while donning a wreath of candles on her head. Or she will appear publicly in a procession, her gaggle of star boys and girls dressed in white accompanying her. Santa Lucia brings another magical night to this time of dark midwinter.

Though it be late, there is a gift I wish to bring you, as well, though I am no Santa Lucia. A star boy, maybe, at best. It’s a gift I’ve given on other Santa Lucia Days, but it is so beautiful, and subscribers Carl & Kathleen Maugeri loved it so much last year, I wanted to offer it again, for them and for all of you. It is a song called Santa Lucia, an old Neapolitan melody, but it is in Swedish, for Lucia is sacred to both Italy and to Sweden, two countries that in many ways could not be more different. I love this melding of cultures and celebration. In Italian, Lucia is pronounced with a “ch” (loo-chee-a) while in Swedish, the C is soft (loo-see-a). The song you’re listening to, if you’re listening to it (and I hope you are) is from one of those processions in Sweden: the young girls dressed in white and young boys, called star boys, also dressed in white, carrying stars on tall poles. “White,” Jane Siberry says, “the color of truth.” Somewhere amongst them is the Lucia, wearing a wreath of lit candles upon her head. Such a beautiful song and such a beautiful sight. Eight days yet to the solstice, darkness continues to build. We welcome light where we can find it. In this case, it comes with such beauty. A good night, indeed.