It’s the celebration of light — from the land of the midday sun to the land of the midnight sun.
The Scandinavian East Coast Museum held its 10th annual Santa Lucia’s Day celebration at the First Evangelical Free Church at the corner of 65th Street and Fifth Avenue on Dec. 13 — honoring the blinded Sicilian-born martyr who became a symbol of brightness in the Nordic nations.
“There’s a lot of imagery about light and darkness in Lucia,” said Museum founder and celebration organizer Victoria Hofmo.
Hofmo pointed out that all pre-Christian societies had celebrations during the darkest time of the year, as the calendar approached the winter solstice, from the Roman Saturnalia to the Swedish Lussinatta.
“When the Christians took over they didn’t kill the pagan holidays, they tried to replace them,” said Hofmo.
And so the traditional Scandinavian ritual, recalling the Italian saint who lost her eyes but still saw the light of God, combines both Christian and pre-Christian elements.
In the procession, the oldest girl wears a red sash representing the blood of the saint’s martyrdom. She dons a wreath of candles on her head and carries a plate of yellow saffron buns to symbolize the sun. The younger children follow her dressed as bakers, spangled, tinselly “star boys,” and tomtes — the gift-bearing gnomes of Scandinavian legend.
“What makes it really beautiful is it’s very theatrical, very dramatic, candles in a shadowy room,” said Hofmo.
Few of the children Hofmo works with are of Scandinavian ancestry, but the organizer said the celebration embodies the core tenets of her Museum’s mission.
“One of of our main goals is to share our culture, especially with young people,” Hofmo said. “Kids love it. They can learn so much in a very fun way.”