There are many traditions I love at this time of year when days are short, the weather is cold, and there's a festive spirit in the air. One of my favorites is the Swedish tradition of Santa Lucia, celebrated each year on December 13.
The tradition goes that the oldest daughter in the family rises early on that day to prepare coffee and sweet rolls. Then, wearing a crown of candles and a white gown with a red sash and singing special Christmas songs, she leads her siblings into their parents' bedroom to serve them breakfast.
It's also common that Lucia brides and Lucia parades will visit nursing homes, hospitals, and other common places to sing Christmas carols and hand out cookies.
Some families also have little gifts ready to give out through the day to co-workers, bus drivers, bank tellers, and other people they meet through the day. It's a day of celebrating the light that pierces the darkness and a day of thoughtfulness and kindness.
It's not a particularly Christian holiday, despite the fact that the real Saint Lucia purportedly was martyred for being a Christian, but what I love about the tradition is its festivity and the excuse to do “random acts of kindness” for strangers and friends alike. I'm half-Swedish and the oldest daughter in our family, so when I first heard the story at the age of ten, it had a special place in my heart and I took it upon myself to celebrate it each year, even though we were far from Sweden or even a Scandinavian community in North America.
To celebrate Santa Lucia day with your own family, here are a few ideas for making it special:
Deliver sweet breads and cookies to those in need
Bake sweet breads and cookies and deliver them to neighbors, nursing homes, those who live alone, and to others who need a bit of Christmas cheer. I recommend Jenny's Cinnamon Molasses cookies and these sourdough Santa Lucia Buns. For a non-sourdough version, there's a lovely recipe at The Fresh Loaf.
Curl up together to read Santa Lucia stories
Go Christmas caroling
This tradition doesn't exist much anymore in North America, though I remember doing it as a child. If you would prefer not to wander around your neighborhood singing, ask a nearby nursing home or shopping mall if you can carol there. Singing in a nursing home is an especially lovely option with children, as it helps nurture good, caring relationships, whereas a shopping mall is more for the fun of spreading “Christmas cheer.”
Make a Santa Lucia candle wreath
For young children, print out a paper headwreath. For older children, make a wreath out of wire, greens, and candles. This type of head wreath can also be used through the Christmas season as a festive candle holder at the dinner table or as an Advent wreath.
Look for ways to serve others unexpectedly
Plug someone else's parking meter and leave an anonymous note wishing the person a Merry Christmas.
Buy someone a coffee.
Give someone at work who's having a difficult season a gift card for groceries or a nice restaurant.
The ideas here are endless – just find other simple ways to show kindness and look for opportunities to be radically generous.
Read Scripture passages that teach of light and darkness
Here are just a few that are especially excellent for young children:
- 2 Samuel 22:29
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.
2 Samuel 22:28-30 (in Context) 2 Samuel 22 (Whole Chapter)
- Psalm 18:28
You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.
Psalm 18:27-29 (in Context) Psalm 18 (Whole Chapter)
- Psalm 112:4
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Psalm 112:3-5 (in Context) Psalm 112 (Whole Chapter)
- Psalm 139:12
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:11-13 (in Context) Psalm 139 (Whole Chapter)
- Isaiah 9:2
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:1-3 (in Context) Isaiah 9 (Whole Chapter)
- Isaiah 42:16
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 42:15-17 (in Context) Isaiah 42 (Whole Chapter)
- Daniel 2:22
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
Daniel 2:21-23 (in Context) Daniel 2 (Whole Chapter)
- Micah 7:8
[ Israel Will Rise ] Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.
Micah 7:7-9 (in Context) Micah 7 (Whole Chapter)
- Matthew 4:16
the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
Matthew 4:15-17 (in Context) Matthew 4 (Whole Chapter)
- John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-6 (in Context) John 1 (Whole Chapter)
- John 3:19
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
John 3:18-20 (in Context) John 3 (Whole Chapter)
- John 8:12
[ Dispute Over Jesus’ Testimony ] When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:11-13 (in Context) John 8 (Whole Chapter)
- John 12:35
Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.
John 12:34-36 (in Context) John 12 (Whole Chapter)
- John 12:46
I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
John 12:45-47 (in Context) John 12 (Whole Chapter)
- Romans 13:12
The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Romans 13:11-13 (in Context) Romans 13 (Whole Chapter)
- 2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:5-7 (in Context) 2 Corinthians 4 (Whole Chapter)
- Ephesians 5:8
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
Ephesians 5:7-9 (in Context) Ephesians 5 (Whole Chapter)
- 1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:8-10 (in Context) 1 Peter 2 (Whole Chapter)
- 1 John 1:5
[ Light and Darkness, Sin and Forgiveness ] This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:4-6 (in Context) 1 John 1 (Whole Chapter)
- 1 John 2:9
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
1 John 2:8-10 (in Context) 1 John 2 (Whole Chapter)
Happy Santa Lucia Day to you all and a very merry and blessed Christmas!