Goddesses in the Dirt: Saint Lucia and the Festival of Lights

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...

Issue #24: Saint Lucia and the Festival of Lights

I'm not sure how the patron saint of a town in Sicily became the focus of a major holiday throughout Scandinavia, but that is the strange story of St. Lucia - and it just gets stranger. 

St. Lucia - or Saint Lucy as she is called in some parts of the world - is the patron saint of Syracuse, Sicily, where she was born. Seeking help for her mother's illness, an angel appeared to her in a dream. As a result, Lucy became a devout Christian and refused to marry. Her would be husband reported her to the Romans, who tried - with the help of a thousand men and fifty oxen - to drag her to a brothel. Not budging, they then attempted to set her on fire, but she wouldn't burn. In different versions of her story, a soldier impaled her throat with a sword, and another poked her eyes out with a fork. It seems there is no end to the ways women were prevented from seeing and speaking their truths throughout history. 

At some point during the period of christianization, her tradition was grated onto a pre-existing Scandinavian festival of Lussiferda - in which witches are believed to take to the sky and make mischief on the night of the solstice. Between Lussi night, as it was also called, and the Yule festival, trolls and evil spirits were active and Lussis were thought to swoop down chimneys and grab children who had been mischievous. Interesting how the name recalls Lucifer, linking her to both elements of darkness and light.

Her feast day is celebrated on December 13, which was the shortest night of the year in the Julian calendar, ultimately adjusted to December 21 in the Gregorian calendar to coincide with the pre-Christian winter festivals. As her name means 'light' she represents - as many festivals at this time of year with long winter nights - the rebirth of light and growth for humankind as she emerges out of darkness. In Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, a young girl is chosen on this day to portray Lucia and wear the white gown and crown of burning candles on her head. 

The birth of light during the darkest time of the year is an ancient theme. The Christmas story is probably the most well known of this archetype, as well as the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah. 

Every year at this time our neighborhood celebrates by lighting hundreds of luminaria candles along the streets in front of our houses. Naturally, I was so completely enthralled this year when taking a walk to see all the candles plus a near full moon overhead that I neglected to remember my camera. However I found this wonderful photo of a luminaria display with a full moon overhead for you to enjoy.

During the holidays I take no prisoners when it comes to twinkle lights. I drape them everywhere - on the bannister of the stairs

to the bust of Sylvia Puppo, who resides on our fireplace mantel. She is the self portrait of a sculptor whose home my parents bought. She left her portrait behind, and when my mother died and my dad moved away, I took her with me and now she watches over our home. I guess you could call her my very own St. Lucia.

St. Lucia's motto is "Ex Tenebris Lux" - Out of Darkness, Light.

Blessings to you all for a very Happy Holidays 

Bottom two photos by author, remaining photos from Lucernarium, Flickr, touchofeurope and Cathy Bjork.


  1. Lucy in the sky with diamonds! Candles and twinkle lights are taking over like tribbles at my home too.

    The story of Santa Lucia is horrid! What were men thinking they could accomplish by torturing her? Revenge for standing up and saying "No!"

  2. I am thrilled to discover your "Goddesses in the Dirt" series. I have been looking for reliable information on this very subject for some time. Thank you so much!

  3. My second grade class has recently been studying Christmas around the world and Sweden was one of the countries. Interesting how the story of St. Lucia is so sugar coated. As are many other stories for certain. Thank you for this series.

  4. I've always been curious about the history of the wreaths of candles on the head and am ashamed to admit, didn't know the history until now. Thanks for enlightening me! (pun totally intended)
    Happy holidays :-)

  5. this woman has been to hell and back! survival was the best revenge, good for her!

    you spin the best tales. what a great way to learn.

    i'm with you about twinkle lights, amanda. i'm hanging mine where ever i can too. i draw the line at mixing white and multicolored lights together. i don't know why but that irritates me!

    happy holidays friend. be well, have fun


  6. In Hamburg, the Scandinavian sailor Missions have their own churches, and every Christmas I used to go there and celebrate Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish Jul with them. You can eat their yummy food and drink glögg and watch Lucia with her burning candles (scary, isn`t it?)(once the niece of our old Swedish friends was chosen). I like to take part in other countries` celebrations. The Danish dance around their Christmas trees! Scandinavia is close to us, so we feel related. Don`t you also love Astrid Lindgren`s old farm stories of how the sleigh was taken to cut a tree and then the ham was cut? All so much quieter than nowadays. Thank you for your series, Amanda!

  7. I have heard about this day but here we do not celebrate it, it is purely a religious fest, like other days that are connected with some saints' names

  8. such interesting stories, right at our finger tips. For that I thank you Ms. Amanda...Happy All the Days.

  9. Amanda, I absolutely loved this post.

    'The birth of light during the darkest time of the year is an ancient theme.'

    This just makes the inner spaces hum.

    I love that you 'take no prisoners' with your twinkle lights and appreciate that you took the time to upload some pics. The image of the luminarias also fills me.

  10. I love the ceremony of St. Lucia...
    have for years.... of course, anything to do with *Night*, *Moon*, *Stars* and *Light* resonates with me. You, dear *Twin* - who know so much have taught me something new....that this ceremony began in Sicily!

    Although I have no (known) Scandanavian Blood in me.....both my countries, Ireland and Croatia, were *visited* thousands of times by *Northerners*....hmmm...so perhaps some Viking ravaged my GreatGreatGreatGreatGreatGreat Grandmother.....who knows!

    I love lights..and let them twinkle all round my home too....
    It helps make the Winter Cold feel warmer... I'll bet your home is especially gorgeous this time of year!

    Sending you many, many, MANY warm Winter hugs and much love,

    Your *Twin*,

    ♥ Robin ♥

  11. Happy return of the Light, Amanda.

  12. and so it is tonight! what perfect timing. and how i love the dark long nights but i would most definitely love the festival of lights, too. we are fairly well lit up here and i keep many white lights up throughout winter, every little bit lighting our way through spring which is, to me, unnaturally bright.

    your home would be a sweet refuge from the dark. beautiful photos, amanda.

    what didn't they do to women who would not surrendor!!

    much love and celebration over the holidays!


  13. Dear Amanda, having grown up in Sweden, where this holiday is the most celebrated in the whole of Scandinavia, I knew much of what you describe here.;)
    It is a very special celebration and all the girls at school were always honored when chosen to be Lucia in the Lucia procession. The funny thing was that even though Lucia was an Italian saint, the girl chosen had to be blond.;) Thus I was never Lucia.;) But then again, did not have to get the candle wax out of my hair.;)
    We also baked and ate special bread buns made with saffron, called Lussekatter.;) Have not had those for a long time, as the are very Swedish and not common in Denmark.;)
    Have a great week,

  14. Sweet Amanda...you have changed me you know,visit me when you get a chance.I know its a crazy time...I just wanted to tell you something.Big Hugs,Cat

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. I have to wonder about the lit candles and hair, however...

  16. The bust of Sylvia Puppo is so cool sitting there on your mantel, and how lucky you are to live in a neighborhood that burns candles together for solstice.
    Happy Solstice!


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