Light in Darkness and Fear the Night.

Every year when the night grow longer and the sun stands lower and lower on the sky, young girls on the Scandinavian Peninsula dream of becoming this year’s Lucia. Last week like every year for a long time, girls all around Norway and Sweden was elected or pointed out to become Lucia, and to lead the Lucia day procession dressed in white and with a crown of light in their hair. For many people in these countries this day, the 13th of December, is a day to celebrate light in the darkest hours of the year, by having girls walking from room to room with lights in their hair singing joyous songs and commemorating the Holy Lucia and her good deeds in life. Although it might be seen as a paradox is that St. Lucia is a catholic and orthodox saint and not a part of the protestant and Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. The modern tradition of celebrating Lucia can be traced back to Germany in the early modern period, but spread through Sweden to the rest of Scandinavia, the first recorded evidence of the modern celebrations outside Sweden can be found in Denmark and Norway just after the Second World War.

Lucia was a young woman from Syracuse in Sicily, whom allegedly died in 304 as a martyr for her Christian beliefs.[1]  This happened only 9 years before Emperor Constantine the Great ended the prosecution of Christians. [2]  Legends of Lucia tells us the story of how a young girl traveled to pray, at a grave of a Christian saint, for her mother who were very ill, and God heard her prayers and healed Lucia’s mother from her illness. Lucia who was a Christian thanked God by giving food to the poor paid for by the money she supposedly were to use to pay for her wedding. This was not appreciated by other citizens of Syracuse, especially the roman authorities who were anti Christian in their beliefs prosecuted her and tried to burn her, but the fire would not touch her, by divine interference. She died in the end at the blade of a sword, for her beliefs and for helping Christians and poor people in her city.[3]

Lucia, or Lucy which is her English name, can be seen as one of many early Christian saints and martyrs who’s stories were not written down until the latter parts of the middle ages, so therefore we cannot say a lot precise about her life and her existence.  But we can see her life as a saint, as a continuation of and a part of the traditions of the early Christian saints and martyr’s. We have all heard, read, and know about the prosecutions that Christians were under in the first three centuries after the birth of Christ, and like so many other Christian holidays and festivals throughout the world, they were throughout the medieval period introduced in the newly converted and Christianized regions of northern Europe, i.e. the first recorded celebrations of St. Lucia in Scandinavia can be found in records from the 13th century in Western Sweden,  but it then held a different form and context.[4]

The night between the 12th and the 13th of December was believed to be the longest of the year, which would have been the case in the Julian calendar of the 15th century, which was 8 days later than our calendar today, which would place the night to fall between the 20th and the 21st, which after all is the Winter solstice, which is the Longest night of the year. On this night none should be outdoors because on this night the witches of the earth and the mares of the world would hunt through the night and take with them all humans who were out and about. These beliefs are derived from pre-Christian traditions of Osgardsreia, or the end of the world, or in some cases the night of the witches and nightmares of all living things. This explanation of the meaning of Osgardsreia have been given by some, though in Ornulf Hodne’s book; “Vetter og Skromt” from 1995 it is explained as; a journey done throughout the lands by pagan Gods and heroes to try to regain influence upon the Christians.[5] This idea that this night was the most dangerous night of the year can to some aspect be seen as a religious synchronization between the paganism, here represented by the pagan Gods who are trying to gain a following though traveling through the world of men, the folklore, which suggest that people would be taken by this Osgardsreia, and the new Christian religion which can be seen through the strong belief and idea that the reia is dangerous and of an evil king, i.e. devilish.  Much of this folklore can still be traced in stories and fairy tales of the Scandinavian countries, though the modern way of celebrating Lucia, is as earlier mentioned; girls parading from room to room dressed in white and with candles in their hair. Which leaves with a question to ask is; to what extent is this a new folklore of Scandinavia with its celebrations of light, the turning of the year and the memory of the Christian martyr’s. Or is it rather just a costume without meaning and purpose for the inhabitants of Scandinavia? But what we can see is that the traditions of Lucia, the story of her life and trust in God have inspired a holiday and belief which bring light into the dark days and nights of the high North as well as Scandinavian homes throughout the world, and that this is a result of religious and cultural syncretism.


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