Cardamom buns on a platter with decorative fir tree branches on a table.
Shift Ministry Models

Stewardship of the Light

Saint Lucia’s Day Traditions
by Faith+Lead | December 13, 2021

By Melanie Heuiser Hill

Twenty years ago, when I was a young mother and pastor, I experienced a difficult Advent. I was going through the motions—making the Advent wreath, singing the minor-keyed hymns, pulling out the ornaments and gradually decorating the Christmas tree with our four-year-old, but my heart wasn’t in it. I’d just resigned from my first call, and I found myself both relieved and deeply grieving. I was exhausted in mind, body, and spirit.

On the morning of December 13th that year, before the tenuous light of dawn made its way to us, our household woke to singing. It was like a dream—warm and cozy and quiet in bed, and yet—someone was singing just outside our window. Our youngest ran from his room to the living room window. “It’s Liz and Bob!” he shouted. “They’re singing! With candles!”

We grabbed bathrobes and opened the front door to our dear friends singing their hearts out, the front stoop festooned in candlelight and love. 

Natten går tunga fjät
rund gård och stuva;
kring jord, som sol förlät*,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

TRANSLATION 

We invited them in, of course, out of the cold and into our still dark but warm house. They came bearing not only candlelight and song, but a delicious breakfast—cardamom bread and ginger-spiced cookies, coffee and hot chocolate, apples and oranges and cheese. We sat in the candlelight at our kitchen table and feasted while the milky sun rose, eventually filling the house with its sparkling mid-morning light.

Saint Lucia

Our friends loved sharing traditions, and on that day they told us the story of Saint Lucia, explaining the Scandinavian traditions surrounding the day—of daughters waking their families at dawn with a special breakfast, their brothers serving as star boys in their pointed hats with gold stars; of the cheering warmth of candlelight during dark days; of light and love brought into the more somber corners of life.

It was a such a gift that Advent—light and joy and love during a difficult time. We went on to share Lucia with others. Our star boy had a baby sister within the year, and she delighted in the Lucia traditions. We were gifted the customary Lucia crown of (electric) candles by our friends, as well as a storied red ribbon that had been tied around the waists of other Lucias who had served in the role before. Next, we learned to bake lussekatter buns before abandoning them for a simpler cardamom bread. We bought Anna’s Ginger Thins early, so we’d be sure to have them on the day. And we learned Lucia’s song in Swedish and English.

Some years it was just our household who lit the candles and enjoyed a magical Saint Lucia Breakfast before the sun came up. Other years we visited someone who we knew could use some light and gentle joy. 

My Lucy and star boy are grown now, but I’m making my list: fresh cardamom, batteries for the candle crown, and Anna’s Ginger Thins.

I hum the song and wonder. Who needs the light this year? Which person could use a reminder that the darkness did not, and does not—indeed, will not—overcome Christ’s light? How can I steward the advent light this St. Lucia Day?

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it. (Amanda Gorman)

About the Author
Melanie Heuiser Hill is an ELCA pastor and writer. She is a tireless advocate for the rhythm and wonders of the liturgical seasons in general, and Advent in particular. You can visit her website at MelanieHeuiserHill.com

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