Christmas traditions have always been part of my family’s celebration. French onion soup at Christmas Eve dinner, the annual holiday party, cutting a Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving – I look back happily on all these memories. But one Christmas stands out: the year my parents introduced their three daughters to the Santa Lucia celebration, a custom from our Swedish heritage.
In Sweden, Santa Lucia’s Day commemorates a young Christian girl who was martyred for her faith in 304 AD. According to the story, Lucia secretly and illegally gave food to the poor. She wore a crown of candles to light her way as both her hands were filled with her offering. Lucia means light, and Santa Lucia’s Day falls on December 13, near the winter solstice or the shortest day of the year. Lucia’s coming signals the beginning of longer light-filled days ahead.
The Christmas season commences in Sweden when the oldest daughter in the family, representing Lucia, wears a white dress, red sash, and crown of candles, and leads a procession of her younger sisters each holding a single candle. Lucia carries a tray of saffron buns and sings the “Santa Lucia” song as she offers food to her family, and then to friends and neighbors.
Having only daughters, my parents recognized the perfect fit for our family. We cooked the saffron buns, assembled candle headdresses, and practiced the Santa Lucia song – each activity providing hours of family together time.
My parents taught us about Lucia, the faith and charity she symbolizes, and about our great-great grandmother Kerstina Mattson who lived in Sweden and who must have played Lucia in her own family celebration. As I learned about my ancestor and the traditions of her homeland, I felt a special connection. And even better, I made lasting memories with my own family as we established a new tradition. Like mine, your family history holds a wealth of tradition you may not even know. How did your ancestors celebrate the holidays? What made their time together special? With a simple search on the internet, you can uncover traditions from the past that add meaning and heritage into your future holiday plans.