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Finland's Special Lucia makes her debut

Many young women don candle crowns and sing on Saint Lucia Day, but there's just one Special Lucia - Elisa Kotisaari from Kokkola.

Special Lucia Elisa Kotisaari
2018's Special Lucia Elisa Kotisaari from Kokkola. Image: Päivi Seeskorpi / Yle

There's not much daylight this time of year in Finland, but many candle-crowned young women around the country brighten the grim, cold weather with cheerful song on 13 December, Saint Lucia Day.

Saint Lucia Day has Catholic and Orthodox origins and is celebrated across Finland, especially in Swedish-speaking communities.

Fifteen-year-old Elisa Kotisaari from Kokkola in western Finland was chosen to be Finland's first Special Lucia from a group of six other young women with physical and developmental disabilities in the area.

According to the woman behind the effort, Mirka Johansson, differently-abled children can help bring light to Lucia Day, too.

Special Lucia Kotisaari said she is very pleased about her new role.

"It is fun and cheerful," she said with a smile.

Equal rights for all

Johansson said she wants to raise discussion about the rights of kids with special needs, saying that the group still doesn't enjoy all of Finland's egalitarian benefits.

Johansson said she was hesitant about the Special Lucia event because of the potential for bullying.

"We all know how some people can be. I don't want my ideas to be the cause of anyone facing more bullying," she said, explaining that some 60 percent people with developmental disabilities have reported being bullied and discriminated against.

"Attitudes can be very bad," she said.

However her worries were unnecessary. More than 3,000 people voted in the selection of this year's Special Lucia, she said, and the experience helped bring the community together.

The Special Lucia event received support from the Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, central Ostrobothnia's social and health care services agency Soite, and local newspaper Kokkola-lehti, as well as local businesses.

Johansson said she plans to bring the Special Lucia event to more communities around the country next year, saying that the cities of Turku, Helsinki and Jyväskylä are already onboard.

This year's Special Lucia is enjoying her status now, though and said she has started getting ready for Christmas and that her home is already decorated with holiday lights and candles.

"I'm also gonna bake gingerbread cookies," Kotisaari said.

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