Bethany Lutheran Church - Ishpeming Michigan

Santa Lucia Procession Intro 12/12/2010

As part of our 140th Anniversary celebration and as we remember the Swedish heritage of this church we thought it would be appropriate to include a Santa Lucia procession as part of what the Sunday School did in their December program.  Santa Lucia or St. Lucy’s Day falls on December 13th and has traditionally been part of Swedish pre-Christmas activity which in some ways is a little strange in that Lucia is not a Swedish saint.  She was born in Sicily, the island that the boot of Italy is kicking when you look at it on a map and her story isn’t a real happy one.

Sicily was part of the Roman Empire and at the time Lucia was born way back in the late 200’s it was against the law to be a Christian and Lucia was raised a Christian; that meant keeping your faith fairly quiet and trying to fly under the radar of the authorities.  When her wealthy father died, Lucia’s mother thought that the best way to protect her daughter was to get her married off and so she arranged for her to be married to a pagan, a non-Christian.  Lucia didn’t want to get married to anyone, much less a pagan, and preferred that her dowry money be given to the poor instead because Jesus teaches us to care for the poor.  Her mother didn’t like that idea but then her mother became ill but following a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Agatha, she was miraculously healed.  Lucia convinced her mother that this was an act of God, a sign from God and after that she agreed with Lucia that her dowry could be used to benefit the poor. 

Lucia’s fiancé, however, wasn’t pleased to see what would have been his money being distributed to the poor, so he blew the whistle on Lucia and told the Roman authorities that she was a Christian.  She was arrested and brought before those who judged such things.  When told to offer sacrifices to the pagan idols, she refused.  To make a long story short, Lucia bravely withstood trial and torture, and part of the legend is that even when burned at the stake, the flames did not touch her, she just glowed with a holy light through the flames.  Finally though she was killed and buried with honor by other Christians who later, when Christianity was made acceptable, made her the patron saint of the city.

Clearly there is some legend mixed in with history in all this, but there is also the question of how this Sicilian saint became so important to Swedish culture.  Well, there are other legends that developed around Lucia, one having to do with a famine in Sweden in the Middle Ages.  The people there were starving; there wasn’t enough food.  But on a dark, cold December day they saw a boat sailing toward the coast.  In the front of the boat there was a beautiful young girl dressed all in white and glowing with a strange light in the darkness.  There was no one else in the boat and there was no wind or oars to move it along. 

The people watching on shore stood amazed.  When the boat reached land, the beautiful young girl, St. Lucia, handed out sacks of wheat to all the people so that they could make bread and survive the winter.  It later became a tradition that in Swedish churches on St. Lucia day, there would be a procession led by a young girl representing St.Lucia with a crown of candles on her head, followed by others bearing candles and stars in order to remember being saved from famine and in honor of this saint who devoted her life to Christ, who provided for the poor and for those in need as Jesus taught us to do.    

          I’ll have a little more to say about St. Lucia at the end of the service and if you’re interested there are some nice books in the church library about her and other Swedish Christmas customs, but for now, our procession.

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Bethany Lutheran Church •715 Mather Avenue • Ishpeming, MI 49849
Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor •E-mail:
Phone: 906-486-4351 •Fax: 906-486-9640 •E-mail:
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