Let’s clean house! St Lucia Day (December 13) might not be celebrated in all countries, but it is one of the most important and magical days in the heart of Europe. It is on this day we get a closer look at the pagan roots of Slavic countries. Slovakia has some of the most unique advent celebrations right before Christmas. The predominately catholic country celebrates the same popular holidays we all know and love, but their extra mysterious customs make it hard to deny their pagan origins. You might be surprised to know that they are not the only ones. It is this time of the year when pagans would bring nature and light into their homes, aka: the Christmas tree.
Saint Lucia Day celebrations take place twelve days before Christmas. In most other countries St Lucia is the patron of lights, but in Slovakia this is the day for witches to come out and play. Going into the forest, working with yarn or the plucking of feathers on St Lucia Day was prohibited. The superstitious people of Slovakia believed that it is on these shortest days and darkest nights before Christmas when evil and witches enjoyed making themselves at home. To combat this they protected their homes by hanging garlic by the door and blessing their homes with holy water. The most common and spirited of all were the Lucia walks. Young women dressed in white, powdered their faces white with flour, and gathered their goose feathers. Some wore scary teeth made out of raw potatoes. Singing and walking throughout town the girls swept homes, cleansing them from negative energies, and young men cracked whips to scare away evil spirits. You could hear the whips from afar, along with singing or playing of the shepherd’s pipe/flute instrument (Fujara). The irony of performing rituals and magic on this night while striving to get rid of witches is not lost on us.
Small town communities in Slovakia are known for pulling together for a good cause. Without modern distractions of today, social gatherings were enjoyed by the old and young alike. It was the perfect way to boost morale on dark and cold winter nights. Whether you were a witch or not, advent was reserved for spirituality. It just so happened to include love spells and fortune-telling. Gathered around a table young women looking for love made stars, one for each night leading up to Christmas. Each star would bear the name of a young man. A star was opened and burned every night, the 12th and last star predicted your future soulmate. A blank star was not uncommon and sealed your fate as an old maid. To further practice magic rituals, lead was poured and melted in cold water to predict the future profession of your beloved. Customs might have varied from town to town but the mystery and celebration of the day remains alive today.
Who was Saint Lucia? The unmarried martyr served god and is known for her bravery and good work, but as many saints before her, she is also known for her very violent death. Perhaps her death is the reason the saint is associated with witches, or perhaps she was confused with the female demon spirit Lussi. Today these celebrations might be perceived as primitive or silly, but the pull towards the mysterious and spiritual has become popular in Slovakia once again. Small tows have reinstated Lucia walks and younger generations enjoy learning about their culture once again. If you wish to celebrate, do it in your own way. Sweeping our homes (physically and spiritually) before Christmas is always a good idea.
Main Image: Irina Krutova