Saint Lucy’s Day

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Tomorrow on December 13 is Saint Lucy’s Day. In this blog post, we tell you what it is and how we Finns celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day. This is our second “what is it and how it is celebrated” blog this month. Last week we did a piece on the Finnish independence day.

Saint Lucy

The day commemorates Saint Lucy, a 3rd-century martyr. According to one legend, she brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs during the Diolectianic Persecution. She used a candle-lit wreath to light her way. The wreath also left her hands free to carry as much food as possible. According to another legend, she was killed due to her Christian faith and for refusing to get married to a pagan.

Saint Lucy’s Day is a very popular celebration in Scandinavia. In Finland, Saint Lucy’s Day or Luciadagen is an important celebration particularly for the Swedish-speaking Finns. 

Such commemoration of a Catholic saint in the Nordic countries is actually quite odd as the all of them are Lutheran countries. They have been Lutheran since the Reformation of the 1500s. Perhaps the tradition has endured because of its association with light at the darkest time of the Nordic winter.

Saint Lucy in Scandinavia is depicted as wearing a white robe. She has a candle-lit wreath on her head and she usually also carries a candle. 

Saint Lucy’s Day or Luciadagen in Finland

Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia in Swedish has been commemorated in Finland since at least the end of the 19th century. The tradition first started in schools and there it spread to Swedish speaking families. The early school celebrations celebrated light and the end of the fall semester. These days the most visible part of the celebrations is Lucia herself, but having someone play her in a procession is a rather recent addition.

Luciadagen is traditionally more important for the Swedish-speaking Finns. These days, however, many Finnish-speaking towns select their own Lucias. Also, many Finnish-speaking schools and daycare centers nowadays celebrate Luciadagen. They may also have their own Lucia processions with a Lucia selected from among the pupils.

There aren’t that many food traditions that would be widespread in Finland, but Saint Lucy’s Day does have its own pastry. 

Saint Lucia's Day pastries

The most notable part of Luciadagen in Finland is the coronation of Lucia of Finland in the Helsinki Cathedral on December 13.

The Finnish Saint Lucy

In Finland, the Saint Lucy of the whole of Finland is selected by popular vote. The first time Folkhälsan organized such a vote was in 1949. They have organized one every since. Folkhälsan organizes these together with the Swedish-language newspaper Huvudstadsbladet. Usually, there are ten candidates for Lucia. Voting starts in late October and goes on for about a month. Folhälsan and Huvudstadsbladet announce the name of the next Saint Lucy usually at the end of November. 

Saint Lucy’s Day 1962. Ms. Ingeborg Spiik as Lucia descending the steps of the Helsinki Cathedral. (Photo by Bonin von Volker, Helsinki City Museum, photo N210951)

After the coronation, Saint Lucy visits hospitals, old people’s homes, and the Finnish parliament. The purpose of many of these is to remind the public of Folkhälsan’s Saint Lucy fundraising effort. Folkhälsan helps families with children in Finland with the raised funds.

The fundraising around Saint Lucy’s Day usually lasts for about a month. In 2018, Folkhälsan raised about 193 000 euros with this fundraising drive. This time fundraising lasts until January 31, 2020. If you want to donate, you can find instructions on how to do it here. The site is unfortunately only in Swedish and Finnish.

Saint Lucy’s Day 2019 in Helsinki

This year’s Saint Lucy of Finland, Ms. Sara Ray, will receive her Lucia crown from our former president, President Tarja Halonen on December 13  at 5 pm in the Helsinki Cathedral. After the coronation, she will descend the Cathedral steps surrounded by her helpers. The traditional Saint Lucy’s Day procession will leave from the Senate Square at 6 p. You can find the map for the procession here. The procession will include Christmas elves, horses, and antique cars.

If you want to witness the coronation, you should be there early. The Cathedral fills up fast after the doors are opened at 4 pm.

You can also catch Saint Lucy already tomorrow morning. She and the Lucia choir will be in Forum shopping center in Helsinki at 8 am. 

This year it’s been 70 years since the first coronation of the Saint Lucy of Finland. To celebrate the occasion, Folkhälsan will organize a charity concert on Sunday, December 15 at 4 pm in Bio Rex. You can buy your tickets from Ticketmaster. Earlier that same day at 10.30 am there will also be a concert for children in Bio Rex. That event is free of charge. There’s also a Christmas market in Bio Rex that same day. 

Saint Lucy’s Day elsewhere in Finland

A number of other cities in Finland crown their own Saint Lucy’s. Here is information on some of them. 

In Turku, the Saint Lucy of Turku will be blessed in the Turku Cathedral at 5.30 pm on December 13. The church service will be in Swedish. There will be a procession and a choir will perform. You can also see the Lucia procession at the Hansa shopping center at 7 pm.

In Oulu, the Saint Lucy of Oulu, Ms. Rebecca Helanen, has already received her crown. She received it on Tuesday this week. 

In Pori, Ms. Sofia Kokkila will receive her Lucia crown on December 13 at 5.30 pm in Keski-Pori church. Her procession will take her from the church to the yard of Restaurant Klubi where there will be a Christmas market. 

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