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The Feast of St. Lucia

Why Protestants Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Celebrating a Saint’s Day

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia, a festival of lights celebrated in honor of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a Christian martyr who was killed by the Romans in AD 304.

The name Lucia/Lucy comes from the Latin root lux which means “light.” Celebrated in the darkness of winter, St. Lucia Day reminds us that the true Light of the world has come.

It’s celebrated primarily in Sweden and Norway, but also in Italy (where Lucia was born) and in parts of Finland.

It’s also celebrated in our house.

My wife has quite a bit of Scandinavian heritage and richly embraces it. So much so that I’ve embraced it, too, and now consider myself an honorary Scandinavian. Our children love traditions, especially ones with significant meaning. So St. Lucia Day has become tradition in our home.

St. Lucia’s feast calls for breakfast in bed. With a 1-year old, we start at the table. As we gathered in the darkness with only our dim, white Christmas lights lit, I read this:

In the liturgy of the Church, Saint Lucy has held, and still holds today, the inspiring position of a saint whose very name reminds the faithful at the middle of Advent that her own “light” is only a reflection of the great “Light of the World” which is to start shining at Bethlehem on Christmas Day. It is as if she would say: “I am only a little flame in Advent showing you the way: 

Behold, the Lord will come And all His saints with Him, And on that day There will be a great light. Alleluia.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world. And whoever follows that Light will never walk in darkness again.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world.

Here’s a brief insight I had from the day. I couldn’t help but think that Protestants would benefit from intentionally celebrating more feast days like this. It was fun. It had purpose. And, ultimately, it points us to Jesus.

The problem is that when we Protestants hear anything having to do with a “saint” we don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Dealing with “saints” smacks of all-things-Roman Catholic and idol worship. So we just avoid it altogether and, for the most part, forget those who have come before us. And we are poorer for it. (Remember, of course, that Lucia lived in the third century AD, well before the formation of the Roman Catholic Church as you know it today.)

The Scriptures tell us that celebrating a day or a religious festival is a matter of conscience because they are just a shadow of the things that were to come (see Col. 2:16-17). So no judgment at all if you or I abstain. Period.

A feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

But a feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

We have a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–ones we read of in the Scriptures and ones we read of outside the Scriptures. These witnesses don’t point us to themselves, but to Jesus. Otherwise, they aren’t true witnesses.

Maybe you are a Christian, of any tradition, who feels like you aren’t connected to your spiritual heritage. Maybe you are a parent who wants to structure your holidays and year with meaningful traditions. Maybe you just want to learn about those who have gone before you.

Then celebrate a feast day.

I’m not asking you to pray to or worship saints. I’m asking you to remember that you are a part of a great, spiritual family tree that spans generations and geography. Our history is rich. And I hope you to use that history to help you see and worship the One to whom the saints, like Lucia, point.

A Prayer on the Feast of Saint Lucia

Most merciful and gracious God,
who lives in unapproachable light, 
whom no one has seen or can see,
who created light out of the darkness with a simple command:

We come to you in the name of the Lord Jesus, who is the Light of the world.

On this December the 13th, as we share this meal and enjoy each other’s presence in the darkness of early morning (or evening):

We confess to you, Father, that we have loved the darkness of sin more than the light of your life. We have coddled the darkness and made our home in it by loving creation more than you, our Creator. Far too often we are like a blind person who feels their way along a wall in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon. And we have resisted coming into your light because, like flipping on a switch first thing in the morning, it’s inconvenient and painful. Lord, have mercy on us!

But we are not without hope! You have not left us alone to keep struggling to find our way in the darkness. You sent your own Son, as a human being,  who is the Light of the world, to give light to the eyes of our hearts, so that we might see you and come to you. Whoever follows your Son Jesus will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. 

On this day, the Feast of St. Lucia, we thank you for your servant Lucy, whose name means “light.” In her short life, she pushed back the darkness as she met the needs of the persecuted, poor, hurting, and sick, and confessed your name before the authorities, though it cost her life. 

And yet she was but a small candle in the darkness pointing us to the Great Light of the world.

During this week of the year, when the days are the shortest and darkest, we ask you, Father, to light up our eyes so that we might see and treasure Jesus for who he is. Since we are children of the light and of the day, we do not belong to the darkness. So by your Spirit, may we continually come into the light—because that’s where you are. As you open our eyes and lead us to you, help us, just like you helped Lucy, to shine bright in dark world that desperately needs you. 

And while we wait for you come again, we stand firm in the hope proclaimed by those who have gone before us:

‘The Lord will come,
And all His saints with Him, 
And on that day, 
There will be a great light. 
Alleluia!’

In Jesus’ name, we pray.

Amen.