Teaching Students About the History of Santa Lucia


Santa Lucia, celebrated annually on December 13th, is a holiday that honors Saint Lucy, the patron saint of light. With origins in Italy and Sweden, this day is an essential event in the Christian calendar, especially in Scandinavian countries where it signifies the triumph of light over darkness. Teaching students about the history of Santa Lucia presents an opportunity for them to learn about the holiday’s unique traditions, festivities, and cultural significance.

Origins of the Tradition

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily, around 283 AD and was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletian Persecution in 304 AD. She is remembered for her acts of charity to those in need, particularly the Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs at that time. According to legend, she wore a wreath with lit candles on her head to navigate through the catacombs and provide food for those hidden within. This simple act symbolized bringing light into darkness – a theme that has been widely celebrated since her time.

Honoring Lucy’s bravery and sacrifice, thousands turned her into a symbol of hope and began celebrating her feast day on December 13th. Her feast coincides with Winter Solstice (according to older calendar systems), marking a turning point when days begin to lengthen again.

Santa Lucia’s Celebration in Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, Santa Lucia’s Day plays a significant role in yuletide traditions. It marks the beginning of Christmas festivities and foretells lighter days ahead after long periods of darkness during winter. The day begins with processions led by children dressed all in white. A girl designated as ‘Lucia,’ typically wearing a white gown adorned with a red sash and a wreath crown adorned with lit candles, leads these processions while representing Saint Lucy.

Younger children assigned as ‘Starboys’ follow Lucia, carrying star-shaped wands. They all sing traditional songs, such as ‘Santa Lucia’ or ‘Sankta Lucia,’ as they parade to bring light, warmth, and a festive mood to the community. Revelers also indulge in saffron-flavored buns called Lussekatter and gingerbread cookies (Pepparkakor) while enjoying the spectacle.

Teaching Students about Santa Lucia

To teach students about the rich history and the significance of Santa Lucia, educators can incorporate several strategies:

Share the historical context and story of Saint Lucy with students to help them understand her sacrifices, acts of charity, and the symbolism she represents.

Explain how the tradition spread to Scandinavian countries and its importance as an essential celebration in these communities.

Introduce traditional songs and encourage singing in class or organizing a small procession to commemorate Santa Lucia’s Day.

Organize a cultural exchange event where students from diverse backgrounds can share their own unique traditions, compare similarities and differences, fostering cultural understanding.

Work on art projects focused on themes of light and darkness, inviting students to express themselves creatively while connecting with Santa Lucia’s symbolism.


Teaching students about the history of Santa Lucia opens an opportunity for them to understand how traditions emerge from celebrations rooted in deep cultural values. The appreciation for different customs during the winter season fosters respect for diversity and can create a memorable educational experience for all involved.

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