St. Lucy's Day, on December 3, inaugurates the Christmas season in Sweden.

On that day the prettiest girl in the household is chosen to impersonate Lucy; very early Christmas morning she will go through the house awakening the household and giving each person a cup of coffee or some sort of sweetened beverage. Her costume is traditionally a white dress with a red sash, and she wears a wire crown entwined with bilberry twigs -- similar to the American cranberry -- studded with nine candles.

Liturgically, St. Lucy was martyred about 300 A. D. The story goes that Lucy gave her dowry to the Christians -- whose courage she admired -- instead of turning it over to her fiance. The enraged young man informed against her and she was condemned to be burned at the stake:  unharmed by the flames, she did not die until thrust through with a sword.

Lucy is commemorated somewhat diveersely in Switzerland where she is the legendary wife of Father Christmas. Wearing a round cap over her long braids, a laced bodice and a silk apron, she marches around the village with Father Christmas and distributes gifts to the girls while he looks after the boys.