The Story Of St. Lucia (And Where To Celebrate In The US)

Fredrik Larsson/


The Story Of St. Lucia (And Where To Celebrate In The US)

Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

Break out the white robes and red sashes. Get your wreath and candles ready. It’s almost time to celebrate St. Lucia!

The legend

On December 13, Swedes around the world celebrate St. Lucia Day (St. Lucy’s Day) and honor Sankta Lucia – a fourth-century Christian martyr who is said to have lost her life after persuading her mother to give away a dowry from her betrothed to the poor.

Based on that legend, her bridegroom, angry at the betrayal, turned Lucia in to the governor for her faith, and when guards went to collect her, they couldn’t move her – they were physically unable. Some versions of the story say they hitched her to oxen, and she still wouldn’t budge. The guards then surrounded her with wood and tried to burn her, but again, she wouldn’t burn.

Lucia finally met her death by sword.

The patron saint of light

Lucia, whose name means light, is the patron saint of the blind because some accounts of her life report that her eyes were gouged out – either by the governor because Lucia’s warning that God was going to punish him or by Lucia herself to dissuade a persistent suitor who liked them.

Emelie Asplund/

This is where Sweden’s St. Lucia Day comes in, and people who have spent winters in Sweden understand why. Winter in Sweden is dark and cold, and the celebration of Lucia is symbolic, meant to recognize the maiden as a bearer of light in the darkness of winter.

The celebrations surrounding St. Lucia processions are made up of feasts, music, dancing and a time for communities to kick off the holiday season. A typical feast includes saffron buns, known as lussekatt; gingersnaps shaped like hearts; meatballs; a smorgasbord of pickled, chilled, smoked and cured fishes like herring; and glögg – a hot, spiced wine.

The celebrations

Lots of SWEA chapters, churches and Swedish businesses around the United States are hosting St. Lucia Day celebrations. Here is a brief list of the many events happening around the country.

Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

Traditional Lucia Celebration – Westport, Conn.

Saturday, Dec. 14

The Lucia procession will take place in The Christ & Holy Trinity Church in Westport at 5:30 p.m. After the Lucia procession, attendees will gather in Branson Hall, where they can enjoy traditional glögg, gingersnaps and saffron buns together. Details here.

Santa Lucia with the Young Scandinavian Club – San Francisco

Sunday, Dec. 15

Come one, come all to the Swedish American Hall for the Young Scandinavian Club’s annual Santa Lucia Holiday event! A tradition nearly as old as the Hall itself, this is the biggest Swedish Christmas event in the Bay Area. A choir of 40-plus Scandinavian youth will sing Scandinavian holiday songs for the season, with the crowned Lucia leading the group. Details here.

Swedish American Museum – Chicago

Friday, Dec. 13

The Chicago museum will be hosting a St. Lucia Day celebration, starting with a procession at 4:45 p.m. at the Museum. At 7 p.m., the celebration continues at Ebenezer Lutheran Church for holiday songs, readings and a final St. Lucia procession. Details here.

St. Lucia Festival – Lindsborg, Kan.

Saturday, Dec. 14

Lindsborg honors Lucia on the second weekend in December. The day begins at 10 a.m. with live holiday music downtown. A processional of girls in white carrying candles and stjärngosse (star boys) lead the crowd to the Bethany Lutheran Church where the annual St. Lucia is crowned. The new Lucia goes among the crowd serving ginger cookies and coffee. Details here.

Northbound — A Winter Solstice & Lucia Celebration – Portland, Maine

Saturday, Dec. 14

Come celebrate light at the darkest time of year! Northbound, a group of five singers from the Boston area with Scandinavian roots will present a program of Nordic winter songs in five-part harmony and a traditional Lucia procession. Details here.

Church of Sweden Lucia Concert – New York

Saturday, Dec. 14

The St. Lucia choir and church choirs have been practicing since October and are putting on what will probably be the most beautiful Lucia celebration in New York. There will be two concerts offered: one at 4 p.m. that will feature the children’s choir and one at 6 p.m. Details here.

16th Annual Ecumenical St. Lucia Concert and Festival of Light / Roanoke, Va.

Friday, Dec. 13

Musicians will be presenting seasonal works and congregational carols with a special tribute to St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. A Swedish supper precedes the free concert. Advance tickets are required for the supper. Details here.

We’d love to add your city’s Lucia celebration to our list! Shoot us an email with the details at, and we’ll add it.

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