St Lucy’s Day

by Hilary Horn

By Carol Dixon

My Swedish penfriend and I began corresponding when we were 12 years old and we continue to keep in touch 60 years on (these days usually by email) and it was interesting and exciting to learn about each other’s customs and traditions especially at special times of the year.  It was from her I first heard about the lovely tradition of Luciadagen – Saint Lucy’s Day when the light of Christ conquering the darkness is celebrated.  This is what she told me about the festival.

“Tradition has it that Lucia is to wear “light in her hair”, which in practice means a crown of electric candles in a wreath on her head. Lucia wears a white gown with a red ribbon around her waist. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle too. The star boys, who like the handmaidens  are dressed in white gowns, carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads. The gingerbread men bring up the rear, carrying small lanterns. There is always a special atmosphere in the morning of Lucia day when the lights are dimmed and the sound of the singing grows as the Lucia procession enters the room. Schools and old people’s homes and other institutions have a Lucia procession. All Swedes know the Lucia song by heart and the many Lucia songs have the same theme:

‘ The night treads heavily around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by the sun, the shadows brood.
Into our dark house she comes, bearing lighted candles, Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia. ‘

St Lucia lived around 280 AD and came from Sicily. She was known for her charity to the Christians hiding in the catacombs to avoid persecution.  Lucy wore candles in her hair to leave her hands free to carry food to those in need.  Missionaries to the Vikings brought her story to the far north and her feast day is celebrated in both the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. St Lucia’s day was originally celebrated on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year as a reminder that even in the deepest darkness the light of Christ shines. “

I discovered too that when the elderly people in the village who live alone receive a visit from St Lucia and her attendants they are often given a special surprise, a small gift of food – ginger biscuits and sweet saffron flavoured buns ‘Lucia katter’ in the shape of curled up cats with raisin eyes and are invited to join in the singing.

This reminded me of the lovely old hymn ”Surprised by joy’ by William Cowper.

“Sometimes a light surprises
the Christian while s/he sings;
it is the Lord who rises
with healing in his wings:
when comforts are declining,
he grants the soul again
a season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.”

The 18th century poet and hymn writer, William Cowper suffered from mental illness and went through many periods of spiritual darkness yet his writing  speaks of God’s love shining through.  A poem of his (which became the hymn ‘ God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’ ) was written after a suicide attempt and is entitled ‘Light shining out of darkness’.

In Advent we read many encouraging passages from the Bible concerning the coming of light and hope.  Isaiah surprised his fellow exiles in Babylon with his words of God’s promise ‘ The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Is 9 v2) and John in his Gospel (Chapter 1 v 4-9) tells of the fruition of the promise in the coming of Jesus, a reading we often hear in church at this time of year.

Jesus himself told the people of his time who walked in the darkest of foreign oppression ‘ I have come into the world so that no-one who believes in me should remain in darkness.’ (John 12 v46) and St Paul in times of persecution wrote to the Corinthian Christians (in 2 Cor 4 V6) ”For God who said “let light shine out of darkness”  made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ’.

Advent gives us a wonderful opportunity to share the light of Christ with those around us, to surprise our friends and neighbours with the message of the light of Christ in dark times as one of my favourite childrens’ hymn reminds us.

1. Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light,
like a little candle burning in the night.
In the world is darkness, so we must shine,
you in your small corner, and I in mine.

2. Jesus bids us shine, first of all for him;
well he sees and knows it if our light grows dim.
He looks down from heaven to see us shine,
you in your small corner, and I in mine.

3. Jesus bids us shine, then, for all around;
many kinds of darkness in this world are found:
sin and want and sorrow; so we must shine,
you in your small corner, and I in mine.

A couple of years ago I wrote an Advent prayer after hearing Bernadette Farrell’s beautiful song ‘Christ be our light’

Festival of Light – Advent
Come, loving God,
into our worship and into our world;
Come with the light of love,
Come with the light of peace,
Come with the light of hope.

Come, loving God,
into our worship and into our world
and banish the darkness of night
with the dawn of your coming.

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