December 13th is the Feast Day of St. Lucy of Syracuse. She was martyred in 304 A.D. A Christian Lucy was sainted for her service to the Christian communities that during times of persecution hid in caves. So her hands could be free to carry food and other provisions she wore a crown of candles on her head to light the way. Betrothed to a pagan Roman she refused marriage and gave away her dowry. Her eyes were put out (often she is pictured carrying her eyes on a tray), the story then says the wood to burn her refused to light, and so she was martyred by the sword.
In the Julian calendar Dec 13th was the winter solstice. The story of a light bringing young woman made its way north over time and Lucy has come to be an important part of the piety and social custom of the people of Sweden. As a result all over Sweden and in Swedish diaspora communities around the world young women will dress in white with a red sash (a symbol of the blood of martyrdom) and a crown of candles on her head. They will sing, accompanied by star boys and other attendants, and in homes bring breakfast to their families (traditionally saffron buns, pepparkaka cookies, and other treats).
My family traces our roots to Sweden and as such this tradition has been a part of our lives. Additionally, Dec 12, 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the first Swedish Lutheran worship service in the state of Texas. That community that gathered became the Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Austin, TX, my home congregation. Gethsemane continues to honor its heritage with Lucia celebrations on Christmas Eve as well as hosting the SWEA (Swedish cultural organization) of Austin Lucia celebrations.
Traditions, like Lucia and the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, help us to mark time in our often hectic and busy lives. They point us to the lives of faith of those who have gone before us and remind us of God’s faithfulness through time. Also, as a nation of immigrants these traditions remind us of that immigrant heritage. Whatever your traditions this Advent and Christmas season I pray they will encourage you to be those who, like Lucy, bring light into dark places. #NTNL #InMissionTogether #EnMisionJuntos