Saint Lucia's Day is a Christian celebration. It occurs on the 13th of December each year.
The celebration is held to remember a Christian martyr who was killed in the third century CE. Given the name Saint Lucia, it has been said that she was killed during the Diocletianic Persecution for helping the Christians who had sought refuge in the catacombs under the city.
According to legends, Saint Lucia was a common citizen who took pity on the Christians that were being persecuted and hunted. When the Christians took refuge in the catacombs under the city, Saint Lucia realized that they would starve, so she started to take food to them. She wanted to carry as much as possible, but she could only travel at night, and was therefore forced to use one hand to hold a candle while she held food in the other. According to legend, she started carrying food while wearing a wreath of candles so that she would be able to carry as much food as she could. She was soon caught by the local Roman authorities who deemed her behavior criminal and martyred her.
The Roman Catholic Church established the holiday as a regular and universal feast day during the sixth century CE, even though legend states that she was martyred in 304 CE. The modern-day celebration has taken the date from several ancient Christian sources and the 13th has now been in vogue for quite a long time.
The legend has been passed down through generations and even though the historicity of the exact details may be questionable, there is no doubt that there were many common citizens who helped the Christians during the Diocletianic Persecution and many of them paid the ultimate price for their kind deeds.
Ritual and Customs
There are quite a few rituals that are associated with the feast of Saint Lucia. The feast is most common in the Scandinavian countries and in Italy. However, both of them commemorate the event with an emphasis on different parts of the legend.
In Scandinavian countries, a procession is usually held during the feast day in which young girls dress as Saint Lucia. Typically, her dress is a white robe, symbolizing the white robe in which Christians receive the baptism, and a red sash across her shoulder, symbolizing her blood. Apart from that, candles are arranged in a wreath and worn on the head to accurately mimic the legendary Saint. These girls then parade across the city while offering buns infused with saffron as this was the food that the Saint is said to have brought to the starving Christians. Young boys usually dress as Saint Stephen to take part in the procession.
In Italy, special services are held in the churches to commemorate the feast day, while in Hungary the feast is commemorated by planting new wheat. However, this celebration is drawn out over the next two weeks and it, therefore, becomes one with the nativity celebration.