Saint Lucia’s Day

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The sky was black over Stockholm when Emma Christine crept out of her bedroom behind her sisters. They tiptoed downstairs in their nightgowns, holding candles to light the way to the kitchen. Amanda took her candle and lit the wall fixtures while the other girls opened the cupboards with silent caution and pulled out canisters of sugar and flour, the jar of yeast and a worn old recipe book. With the candles flickering all around, they set to work. Finally, the sweet rolls were golden-brown and cooling on the tray. The sun leaked into the kitchen window and the sisters glanced at one another with giddy anticipation. The eldest daughter gracefully knelt down as Emma crowned her. How Emma looked forward to the day she would wear that crown of evergreen! The white candles stood tall atop her head and looked beautiful once they were lit. Emma handed her sister the tray of rolls and the careful procession began. Up the stairs, down the hall to Mr. and Mrs. Karlson’s bedroom and then to the brothers until everyone had been served.

my great-great-grandmother’s recipe

Or at least, that’s the way I imagine it. Emma Christine couldn’t have known at that time that she would one day take a ship to Ellis Island to meet her fiancé in New York. She couldn’t have known that they would have many descendants and she couldn’t have known that I would be one of them. Yet here we are, well over a hundred years later, preparing to celebrate her homeland and the traditions she brought to ours.

The famous doughnuts!
The famous doughnuts!

Though my family doesn’t know much about Saint Lucia (and can’t seem to find anyone who does!) we have our own reasons for celebrating her day. The first thing I love about Saint Lucia’s Day is the tale of Lucia and the persecuted Christians. The story goes that a group of Christians had fled to the catacombs under Rome, and Lucia (who was, by the way, Italian!) would carry food to them, holding candles on her head as she made her way down. What a beautiful image of service! Lucia was martyred for her Christian faith in 304AD.

two of my sisters and me on the morning of Saint Lucia’s Day, 2009

Though my family is Protestant, we love celebrating this saint’s day. On December 13, we still get up and bake a Swedish recipe for powdered doughnuts that we’ve been using for several generations now. My eldest sister wears a crown of evergreen with a ring of glowing candles. Well, maybe they’re battery-powered candles, but we imagine that they’re just like the ones they wore in the days when our ancestors lived in Sweden! Sabrina serves the doughnuts to each of us, and the twelve days of Christmas officially begins! And in my family, we also exchange small gifts between the siblings on this day.

Sabrina serving our breakfast…mm-mm!

Lucia means “light.” This is my favorite thing about Saint Lucia’s Day. It brings our attention to the light. Not just the light bulbs on the crown, but to the Lord, our light. By His light we see light and by His grace we walk in the light of life.

Isaiah 9:2 says,“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Isn’t that something worth celebrating? We were once lost, walking fearfully in the catacombs of darkness. And then The Great Light came to us. And He shone on us.

So tomorrow, whether you are reading this from Stockholm (and judging my minimal knowledge on your favorite holiday) or you have only heard of Saint Lucia’s Day from Kirsten’s Surprise, you can enjoy the holiday where you are. Light a candle and think about the vitality of light. Think about the light we’ve been given through Christ.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)


  1. Wow, this sounds really interestng. It is wonderful to go back to your roots and celebrate special holidays that have been important to your family throughout the generations.

  2. I had to laugh when I read “whether you are reading this from Stockholm (and judging my minimal knowledge on your favorite holiday)” because I’m reading it from Norway (were we’re visiting family) and yes, we celebrate St.Lucia here a little different than you do =) but, as an immigrant to the U.S. who, although I did not go by Ellis Island, but who did, leave her country behind to go to her fiancè in New York, and start a new American life there, I know that I would have been proud and very touched to know that in a 100 years, my descendants would care to keep my homeland’s traditions alive, not actually caring if they made doughnuts instead of Lucia buns =)

    We have gotten up early every Lucia morning to make Luciabuns (lussekatter) for the past 22 years (me being 6 months at the time we started), and usually we’d dress up in white and carry a candle and give out buns hot from the oven to our neighbors, I’m a little too pregnant to do that this year… but we did get up early to make them. In the parades we do have one “Lucia” who wears the evergreen wreath with four candles, and we sing a song about Lucia to a traditional Italian tune.

    I thought it was great hearing about your Lucia celebration =)
    God bless!

    1. How wonderful, åslaug!
      Thank you for your comment! You are “the real deal”! 😉

      What a story you have to tell…wow! My own Emma Christine must be smiling down upon you!

      Thanks again, I’m going to love sharing your comment with my family.


  3. Thank you for your story. We used it as our devotional advent reading at breakfast this morning. My daughter’s middle name is Lucia, so we have often acknowledged St. Lucia in some way (her story, some type of candle lighting, some “light” scripture passages…) but haven’t established traditions that seem to stick. I appreciated how your story had both a devotional and practical quality to it.

    1. Amy,
      Thank you for sharing! That is so neat! Our Advent devotional was about “light” today as well! It made things extra meaningful. I love your daughter’s name…you’ll always be able to use it to point her to Christ. 🙂

      1. I just now saw that you used THIS post as your devotional…thank you! That is very sweet and I am honored!


  4. I read about Saint Lucia in a book and became so fascinated with her story that I did more research on her. Soon it became a story and I wrote that story into a play.
    She is so inspiring.

  5. What a beautiful tradition! I knew a little bit about it, but the history you have here is wonderful. And all those images of light this time of year really do point one to the Light of the World, don’t they?

  6. My family always celebrated St. Lucia’s Day when my sister and I were younger, as we have Swedish ancestry too. And your writing did make me think of Kirsten’s surprise! 🙂 Such a lovely family it sounds like you have. It’s so fun to see all the different traditions different cultures have in celebrating the coming of the Light of the world.

  7. Blessed ! St.Lucia’s is such a touching story. Thank you for sharing, Everly Pleasant.

    1. Mema & Papa says:

      Thank you Pleasant, we loved your story.

      1. Thank YOU Mema and Papa! I couldn’t have done it without your help on gathering information about Emma Christine! I hope y’all are eating doughnuts right now!

        Love, Everly

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