December 13 marks the celebration of Santa Lucia Day in Denmark – a Christian tradition that commemorates a 3rd century martyr and a popular festival of light that helps people get through the long winter days.
Traditionally, a young girl is chosen to portray the saint. She wears a crown of candles at the front of a procession in which everyone wears white and carries a candle.
These candles are believed to represent the fire that refused to take Santa Lucia’s life when she was sentenced to be burned.
Santa Lucia Day is a major Swedish feast that has been celebrated since 1927, and to mark the occasion the Swedes also bake a special bun made with saffron, Lussekatt (Lucia’s bun), which has become a very popular Christmas tradition.
In Denmark, the tradition of public Santa Lucia processions was adopted in 1944, and it has been celebrated annually ever since.
See the list of places (below) where you can experience this special Advent festival in Copenhagen.
The legend of Santa Lucia is about a young maiden who chose to devote her life to God and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage.
She lived in the 3rd century in Sicily where the Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted the Christians.
According to the legend, she refused a suitor who then gave her away to the authorities. The emperor decreed that Lucia should be taken to a brothel, but by divine intervention no-one could move her.
He then tried to burn her at the stake, but miraculously she managed to survive. She was also stabbed with a sword and eventually beheaded.
A variant of the legend tells how Lucia tore her eyes out of their sockets because she did not want any man to fall in love with them.
That is why she is often pictured with her blue eyes in a bowl, and why she was named the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble.
Santa Lucia is also the patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Sicily.