I wore a crown of candles on my head for many years. Sure, my mom only let me wear battery-operated candles in fear that my hair would ignite, but it didn’t lessen the connection to my ancestry one bit. As the firstborn daughter, I had the special honor of being Lucia.
Each year, on December 13th, Swedes celebrate Santa Lucia Day. The eldest daughter in each family dresses in a long white robe with a red sash and wears a crown of candles on her head; younger siblings follow and carry a candle. She serves breakfast in bed to her parents and holiday songs are sung - it’s the beginning of the Christmas season and Lucia lights the way.
For most of my childhood, I was fortunate enough to live next door to my grandparents. I can remember surprising them in bed with sticky buns and coffee on a couple of Santa Lucia Days…although, I’m absolutely certain that those “surprise visits” were carefully coordinated and that they’d been up and out of bed long before I’d arrived. Grandma would coo over how clever I was and Grandpa would sing old Swedish songs. This was a tradition they passed down and taught us all to love…and love it, I did!
The tradition was more important to me than the actual meaning of Lucia’s name day. She was a young Christian virgin who was martyred long, long ago and quite honestly, I never knew the story of her life until very recently. (Isn’t that terrible?!) But wearing the white robe and crown of candles connected to me to years and years of other Johnson daughters and that’s what mattered the most in my young mind and heart.
I finally visited Sweden for the first time this past April. I spent time with distant family, walked reverently through the old grave stones, sat in the pews of the small church, and toured the old family farmhouse. Those moments cemented my love for the traditions begun by my grandparents.
Because of that incredible trip into my family’s history, I look forward to Santa Lucia Day this Thursday with even more anticipation…and frankly gratitude.
Thursday officially kicks off the Christmas season in my heart (and hopefully in my home if I can get that darn tree up!). Though I won’t be wearing a crown of candles, I hope that my light shines the way to the true reason for celebration this Christmas and that I can continue to be Lucia all year round.
Do you have any special traditions that you celebrate each holiday season?