St. Lucia of Syracuse (283–304) was a martyr, revered in the Middle Ages and still honored today in many countries for her courage in secretly bringing food to Christians who were hiding in catacombs under Rome to escape persecution. Legend tells us that she wore a crown of candles to light her way so that her hands were free to carry these gifts. Her name, appropriately, means "light."

Before calendar reforms, her feast fell on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. Even now, in Sweden and Norway, St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) honors the turning tide of winter and the return of the light. Traditionally, a young woman in a white gown with red sash and a crown of lingonberry twigs and blazing candles wakens her family with saffron rolls and coffee.

Despite their long, dark winters, Norwegian and Swedish people are some of the happiest in the world. Norway ranks 4th out of 157 countries in a 2016 study that looks at the well-being of populations; Sweden ranks 10th. To learn more about this study, click here.


No words of St. Lucia's have come down to us through the centuries, but we do have renowned British poet John Donne's 17th-century poem, "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day." Scholars debate whether the poem refers to his beloved wife Anne (who died at age 33) or is a general lament, but either way you can hear both acceptance and longing in the last few lines:

"Since she enjoys her long night's festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is."

You can read the whole poem here.

Spiritual Practices

One way to approach your own deep midnight is through the arts: poetry, music, painting, sculpture, collage, or whatever other form moves you. As you consider simply how to abide gracefully throughout a long winter or as you face your grief, what form can you use to express your feelings? Pick whatever is most natural to you, and let your art reflect the personal meaning you find in "the year's, and the day's deep midnight."