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Santa Lucia celebration at Southwark Cathedral

For the first time Southwark Cathedral is hosting the Swedish Santa Lucia celebration.

Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia at St Paul's Cathedral (Photo: Philip Way)

London's Swedish community is holding the celebration twice in a week due to the large numbers wishing to attend. Long ago, the night between the 12 and the 13 of December was regarded as the longest night of the year, a night when extra protection was needed. It was the custom in some parts of Sweden to prepare a meal and serve it by candlelight during that long and cold night.

On 13 December 304 a young woman called St Lucy, as she is known in England, refused to make a sacrifice to the emperor Diocletian and so suffered death in Sicily. At the end she said: "I know of no other God than my Creator in Heaven and I am prepared to die for him." Legend asserts that Lucia, during her life, was willing to sacrifice even her eyes for her true belief and so Lucia became a symbol of light in darkness. Her body rests in a church in Venice.

In the middle of the 19th century the Lucia song was brought to Sweden from Naples and now the name Lucia is celebrated in practically every Swedish home and church, community and club, school and office.

Lucia appears, dressed in a white gown, with a crown of candles, accompanied by a group of girls also dressed in white and sometimes by young boys wearing tall paper cones with stars on them. They all sing the Lucia song and Christmas carols.

This is part of the Swedish preparation for Christmas when the Gospel reading includes the words: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1.5).

The celebration at Southwark Cathedral is at 7pm on Wednesday 11 and Friday 13 December. Tickets are 5 to 30 (in aid of charity).

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