Though the historical ‘Santa Lucia’ was apparently an Italian Catholic, the feast day has been adopted by Lutherans in the Nordic countries and elsewhere.
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.
The original Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian noblewoman who was brutally martyred in the third century.
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.
Charity and candles
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. The campaign brings in more than 100,000 euros annually to help the disadvantaged, including children at risk and elderly people living alone.
Her big moment comes at Helsinki’s Lutheran Cathedral at 5pm on Thursday, when she will be formally crowned as Lucia by an unlikely figure: Defence Minister Carl Haglund. He became head of the Swedish People’s Party last summer, representing the six-percent minority.
Hanhikoski and her entourage will then lead a procession down the Cathedral steps into the Senate Square and through the city.
Broadcasts on radio, TV and the web
The event will be streamed live on Yle’s Swedish-language website, with a taped version broadcast at 9.30pm on Yle Fem (channel 5). The same channel will also broadcast a programme featuring music from the Cathedral ceremony at 7.40pm on Christmas Eve.
Radio Vega will broadcast a visit by Lucia and her ladies-in-waiting to Yle beginning at 9.10am Thursday.