URC Daily Devotion Sunday 13th December 2020

Sunday 13th December – Santa Lucia

St Lucy is the patron saint of the blind.  She lived in the 4th Century and used to visit Christians hiding in the dark of the catacombs.  She came from a rich family but refused to be married off.  Legend says she plucked out her own eyes to make herself unmarriageable!  In Scandanavian countries girls place candles in their hair and process, singing the hymn, below, to St Lucy.  It’s a festival of light looking forward to the birth of Jesus, the light of the world.

St Matthew 5: 14-16

Jesus said: ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Hark Through the Darksome Night

You can hear the tune here

Hark! through the darksome night
Sounds come a-winging:
Lo! ’tis the Queen of Light
Joyfully singing.
Clad in her garment white,
Wearing her crown of light:
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Deep in the northern sky 
bright stars are beaming;
Christmas is drawing nigh, 
candles are gleaming.
Welcome thou vision rare, 
lights glowing in thy hair,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Darkness will soon take flight, 
from all the earth
These words she speaks to us, 
wonderful tidings
Daytime will come again, rise in a rosy sky
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia


Particularly in Sweden, but across Nordic lands, processions of young girls (and boys) appear on 13 December, dressed in white robes with red sashes, wearing candles on their heads or bearing them in their hands. They sing one of the traditional St Lucia songs:

‘The night treads heavily around gardens and house, in places in reached by the sun; the shadows brood; into our dark homes she comes, bearing lighted candles, St Lucia, St Lucia’ (Natten går tunga fjät). Saffron buns (lussekatter) are shared, and consumed with coffee (or mulled wine, on a cold Nordic day). 

The tradition’s origins lie not in Scandinavia, but in a legend from further south. The story is of a young girl, Lucy of Syracuse, who,  in the Diocletianic persecution, is condemned to death and martyred for her Christian faith. It is said that the lit flame at the stake would not burn against her, and she was stabbed to death. 

In time, her story travelled north, carried by missionary monks/ priests, or traders, or even Vikings. And there it finds a home, a story of light in the darkness of a Nordic winter. Nowadays, this is perhaps less apparent in the well-lit, even light-polluted, streets of Stockholm. The power of light in darkness was much clearer to me on a mid-winter day/ night on Svalbard in the far north when the sun did not rise above the horizon. In the midst of such overwhelming darkness, the light comes.

The Lucy of St Lucia’s Day today wears the white robe of her baptism by martyrdom; the red sash proclaims her shedding of her blood for her faith; the candles (now often battery-powered) symbolise the Light of the world in Christ. NFS Grundtvig, the Danish priest and hymn writer, writes for the Advent season of ‘Christmas night when our Saviour was born, then light split the darkness and brought the morn’. The procession has attendant girls with candles, and ‘star’ boys, reminding us of the stars seen by the shepherds: ‘God’s angels bright, from heav’n’s high halls descending in wonderful sunshine-robes attired to earthly shadows bending’ (NFSG). 

Lucys were formerly elected or selected or a competitive prize. Now, in egalitarian Scandinavia, it is very often by random draw – so Lucy is no longer a figure apart,  but rather one of us. ‘You are [all] the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14).

Jesus bids us shine,
Then, for all around
Many kinds of darkness
In this world are found –
Sin, and want, and sorrow;
So we must shine … (Warner, 1868)

A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.


Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce is Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology at the Scottish Congregational and United Reformed Church College in Glasgow and a member of Port Glasgow URC.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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