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Bringing light on a dark winter day

St. Lucia’s Day is one of the few saint days observed in the Nordic countries and is marked annually on December 13. This year's Lucia maiden, Vanessa Eriksson, will be crowned late Saturday afternoon at the Helsinki Cathedral.

Lucia 2014 Vanessa Eriksson
Finland's 2014 Lucia maiden Vanessa Eriksson. Image: Folkhälsan/Hannes Victorzon

Wearing candles on her crown and bringing light into darkness, she has a special place in the pre-Christmas season. The appeal of the figure is clear as her name means light and her feast day comes in the darkest time of year, just a week before Winter Solstice.

Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority in particular celebrates Luciadagen, or St Lucy’s Day, as a beacon of brightness in the dimmest time of year. Each year she is portrayed in Swedish-speaking towns and schools in Finland by a girl wearing a white robe with a red sash and a wreath with candles – nowadays usually battery-operated for safety’s sake. She sings a Swedish version of the Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia” and sometimes distributes saffron buns known as Lussekatter.

Lucia neito
A St. Lucia Day celebration at a school in Hämeenlinna earlier this week. Image: Yassine Berrouj / Yle

Since 1950, a national “Lucia” has been elected as part of a charity fundraising drive run by Folkhälsan, a social welfare and health care NGO. The winner spends several months doing charity work and visiting day care centres, hospitals and retirement homes.

"I haven't really been nervous yet but it's clear it's a little nerve-wracking and exciting," says this year's national St. Lucia, Vanessa Eriksson, about taking on the role and traditional duties.

The coronation ceremony begins at 5 PM in Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral and will be recorded for viewing on Yle Areena and Svenska.yle.fi. Excerpts will be broadcast on Yle Fem beginning at 10 PM, and on Christmas Eve at 9:45 PM as a part of an Yle Fem music programme.

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