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December 13 is the Feast of Saint Lucy of Syracuse. Formerly celebrated in all of Western Christendom, it is celebrated especially today in Scandinavia, and in particular, in Sweden. The name Lucy is derived from the Latin word lux, meaning light. And it is this light that is honored during the celebrations.
This is how the festival takes place: A young girl, elected to portray Lucia, all dressed in white and carrying a crown of candles on her head, leads a procession of women also dressed in white, each one holding a candle in her hand. These women sing songs of Lucia’s victory over darkness, which is overcome by light. Once this is over, the procession breaks into Christmas carols.
Before the Gregorian calendar was reformed in the 16th Century, St. Lucy’s Day fell on the day of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Perhaps this is the reason why this festival is still so popular in the Scandinavian countries, where the nights in December are so long and dark. At such times, the idea of light overcoming darkness carries hope and comfort.
Another Nordic tradition is the family preparation of gingerbread cookies. If you are interested, try our recipe for Ginger Cookies.
Originally published in the Journal de Montréal on December 13, 2008.