A December Celebration — Santa Lucia Day
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Santa Lucia Day is a festival of light celebrated in Swedish homes and schools on one of the darkest days of the year. This holiday, which honors Santa Lucia, patron saint of Sweden, takes place on December 13.
Santa Lucia Day is a festival of light celebrated in Swedish homes and schools on one of the darkest days of the year. This holiday, which honors Santa Lucia, patron saint of Sweden, takes place on December 13. A celebration of hospitality, Santa Lucia Day teaches the values of sharing and caring for others.
Santa Lucia Day can be adapted for a school celebration. Read on to find out more about this holiday.
AHEAD OF TIME
Decorate Your Classroom — In Scandinavia it’s more common to see red and white decorations than red and green. Families make their own decorations out of cut paper. The paper is heavier than construction paper, so use red and white card stock.
Paper Hearts — Woven red and white paper hearts are traditional Swedish decorations. Third graders with good scissor skills can make paper hearts with templates and directions. You’ll want to practice making hearts in various sizes ahead of time.
Candles — Candles are part of Santa Lucia Day, but lit candles aren’t allowed in most schools. Make white candles out of heavy paper or use unlit white candles.
Other decorations might include evergreen boughs and red ribbon. You’ll need several large rolls of wide, red ribbon for room decorations and for girls' sashes.
Santa Lucia Crowns — In Sweden, Santa Lucia crowns are made from lingonberry branches. Traditionally only the oldest daughter in a Swedish family wears a crown with candles, while her younger sisters wear plain, leafy crowns. Make crowns with construction paper leaves and cardboard candles. All the girls may want crowns with candles.
Hanna's Christmas by Melissa Peterson.
Star Boy Hats — Star Boys are attendants for Santa Lucia. They wear tall, pointy hats, like white wizard hats, decorated with silver stars. Use white construction paper, aluminum foil, or silver origami paper for stars and/or silver glitter.
What to Wear — Traditionally girls wear white robes with red sashes around their waists. It’s more practical for girls and boys to wear white shirts or sweaters and dark pants or skirts. Or simply use red sashes and crowns for girls and hats for boys.
Practice Singing — Before you practice singing, show this short video clip of a beautiful choir singing the Santa Lucia song. You may recognize this as an Italian song; here it is sung in Swedish.
Here’s an English translation:
Santa Lucia Song
Night walks with heavy steps
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky . . .
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Prepare Food and Drinks — Gingerbread cookies are easy and fun to make ahead of time. Cookies, Santa Lucia buns, and coffee are brought on a tray and offered, usually to parents or, at school, to staff. You might substitute mulled apple cider or hot chocolate for coffee.
Here’s a recipe for Santa Lucia buns. Or you can make or buy cinnamon buns instead.
St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatt)
2 packages dry, active yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110–115 degrees)
2/3 cup lukewarm milk, scalded and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
5–5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons sugar
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Stir in scalded milk, sugar, butter, 2 eggs, cardamom, salt, saffron, and 3 cups flour. (**NOTE: I used a blender to mix all of this, adding 1 1/2 cups flour at a time). Beat until smooth. Then, stir (by hand) enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.
2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
3. Place dough in a greased bowl, turn greased side up. Cover, let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2–2 hours, or until doubled.
4. Punch dough down; divide into 4 equal parts. Cut each part into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth rope, 10–12" long. Shape each rope into an S-shape and coil the ends. Place on greased cookie sheets. Brush tops lightly with butter and place raisins in the middle of each coil. Let rise until doubled in size, about 35–40 minutes.
5. Heat oven to 350. Mix 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water and brush buns with mixture. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 15–20 minutes.
DURING THE CELEBRATION
Parade — Share Santa Lucia Day refreshments with school staff, such as custodians, cafeteria workers, librarians, and school secretaries. Discuss with your class ahead of time whom you’ll visit. Sing the Santa Lucia song as you deliver food and drinks.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF SANTA LUCIA DAY
Santa Lucia was born into a wealthy family in Syracuse, Sicily, in the late 3rd century A.D. Her name, Lucia, comes from the Latin word lux, meaning "light." As a young woman, Lucia refused to marry and instead gave her dowry to the needy and dedicated herself to serving the poor. Lucia was guided by a crown of candles as she brought food to the poor. She was killed for her beliefs.
No one knows how this story of an Italian young woman made its way to Sweden. Some say Lucia visited Sweden. Others say Lucia’s story was brought by long-ago missionaries to Sweden, centuries after Lucia's death. However it happened, about 1,000 years ago Sweden adopted Santa Lucia as its patron saint.
I hope you'll comment and share how you celebrate December holidays at school! God Jul!