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St. Lucia’s Day celebrations brighten winter gloom

St. Lucia’s Day is one of the few saint’s days observed in Finland and the Nordics. On December 13, residents of Europe’s far north crown a modern-day representation of the saint and engage in a candle light procession on the occasion.

Valkiavuoren koulun Luciaksi vuonna 2012 kruunattiin Veera Koskimäki.
Image: Johanna Manu/Yle

Finland’s Santa Lucia 2015, Sonja Lehto, will receive her crown at the Helsinki Cathedral at 5.00 pm Sunday. Pastor and writer Hilkka Olkinuora will officiate at the ceremony, following which Santa Lucia will lead a procession through the capital city.

St. Lucia’s Day is not an official part of the religious calendar of Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran church, but the occasion is an enduring tradition that has roots that date back centuries to the death of a young Christian girl martyred in Rome for her faith. It was originally celebrated mainly by Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority but has since been adopted by the wider society.

In the Nordics, Santa Lucia’s association with light – Lucia is derived from the Latin word for light, Lux – represents a beacon during the darkest time of the year. The observation occurs one week before the winter solstice on December 21, when people in northern climes experience the shortest day of the year.

Since 1950, the selection of a national Santa Lucia has been part of a charity fundraising drive organised 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.

Santa Lucia is usually clad in a white gown with a red sash. She typically wears a crown of candles on her head, nowadays of the battery-operated variety.

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