St. Lucy’s Day

Lucia by Carl Larsson 1908
The Feast of St. Lucy on 13th December, 1916 by Carl Larsson

 

Tomorrow is St. Lucy’s Day, a holiday primarily observed in Northern and Central Europe… and the Upper Middle West. If it seems odd for Lutherans to observe a Saint Day, it’s because it sort of is. Then again, as with all the best Christian observances, the holiday’s roots likely if anythinhave little to do with either saints or Christianity.

Luciafirande_på_Koberg_i_Västergötland_1848._Fritz_von_Dardel_-_Nordiska_Museet_-_NMA.0033692
Saint Lucy’s Day (1848) by Fritz von Dardel

St. Lucy’s Day begins with a young girl clad in white with a lit crown of candles positioned in her hair in a fir wreath (or lingonberry or whortleberry twigs). She leads a procession of candle-bearing girls with coffee, ginger snaps, glogg, and St. Lucia buns (lussekatter). Sometimes there are boys in conical hats known as “star boys.” The children sing Lucia songs which provide a welcome break from Christmas Carols.

Legend of Santa Lucia

 

Falling near the longest night of the year, the symbolism of young maidens bearing light-bringing fire and bounty isn’t too hard to figure out, but if you must know the official Christian version of events, then here you go. Officially, Lucia helped the early Christians in Italy who hid in the catacombs. In order to see, but needing to bring food in her hands, she constructed a wreath of candles. Yeah… right.

Lussi die dunkle kidnapping children

 

The truth is that before the light-bringing Lucy was invented, Germanic people and their neighbors observed “Lussi Night.” The figure, Lussi die dunkle, was a dark, evil female spirit that came on the 13th of December to punish those with uncompleted tasks. Similar (and perhaps to related) to Lilith, the Mesopotamian storm demons, Lussi also preyed upon children. In fact, a whole mob of Lussiferda (Lisle-Ståli, Store-Ståli, Ståli Knapen, Tromli Harebakka, Sisill, Surill, Hektetryni and Botill) would go around and enter houses through chimneys to kidnap children. Sound vaguely familiar?

I can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection between St. Lucy, the Lussiferda, and the Biblical Lucifer. The Hebrew Bible refers to the “lightbearer” or “bringer of the dawn” as הֵילֵל, which is pronounced “HAY-lale.” The translators of the King James Version, published in 1611, chose to use the Latin “lucifer” (lowercase), Latin for “light-brining.”

Il asino et Santa Lucia Santa Lucia Santa Lucia e il asino

In Italy, where St. Lucia is said to have lived and died, children leave sandwiches for her and she rides a flying donkey, giving coal to bad children and… flour, sugar or salt to the good. Now that’s an incentive! They don’t, however, eat anything made of wheat flour on this day, munching instead on cuccia (a desert made of wheat berries) and biscotti made to look like eyeballs.

800px-adecc80le_socc88derberg_-_christmas_card1

In Hungary, groups of children sing ancient fertility songs and, if given gifts of pears, bless the houses’ poultry. If not rewarded, they have to power to make all the chickens die… except one… which is left blind.

Swede Party

 

A newer tradition is for college students to party all night long on St. Lucia Day, since it’s one of the last chances to get together before going home for Christmas.

Children on St. Lucy's Day

“A NOCTURNAL UPON ST. LUCY’S DAY,
BEING THE SHORTEST DAY”

by John Donne

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,

Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;

The sun is spent, and now his flasks

Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;

The world’s whole sap is sunk;

The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,

Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,

Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,

Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

 

Study me then, you who shall lovers be

At the next world, that is, at the next spring;

For I am every dead thing,

In whom Love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express

A quintessence even from nothingness,

From dull privations, and lean emptiness;

He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot

Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

 

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,

Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;

I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave

Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood

Have we two wept, and so

Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow

To be two chaoses, when we did show

Care to aught else; and often absences

Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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