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Saturday, 12 December 2009
13 December - St Lucia Day
13th December in Sweden is Lucia Day, or St Lucy's Day (link to Wikipedia article). As with so many other celebrations, the origin is a strange mix of quite different legends and traditions.
On the one hand, the celebration is connected to old beliefs that on the night between 12th till 13th one should guard oneself against Lucifer (the devil), or a female evil spirit or witch by name of Lussi, by staying up all night and keeping candles burning etc. (In old times this night was believed to be the winter solstice, the longest night in the whole year.)
On the other hand, it has also been connected to the Italian legends of St Lucy, patron saint of Syracuse who died in the 4th century.
Anyway, the tradition arose of young people going round between houses and farms on this night, singing special Lucia songs (and Christmas carols and hymns), and bringing candles and sweets and pastries. Lucia traditionally wears a long white dress or robe, and a crown of candles on her head. Her maids just hold candles in their hands. Boys can take part too, also dressed in white robes and wearing white cones on their heads decorated with stars and sometimes also holding a stick with a star on top. They're then called "star boys". (Nowadays boys might also be dressed up as Santa's helpers or gingerbread men.)
A special kind of sweet buns or rolls are made for Lucia; often they are made with saffron, and because of their special curled shape, they are called "Lucia cats". Ginger biscuits also belong in the Lucia and Christmas traditions.
Every town has their own Lucia, usually elected by a public voting process involving the local newspaper and a charity organisation. This Lucia and her maids spend around three weeks in December going round visiting different organisations and public places, singing traditional songs and collecting money for charity. Each school and church etc usually also have their own Lucia celebrations. Young children sometimes go round and sing to the neighbours. Older students sometimes stay up all night, or get up very early to go and wake up parents or teachers etc.
One of my best Lucia night memories is from when I was in a youth gospel choir in my early 20s. A few of us started out in the very early morning, all dressed up, and then went round to collect the rest. Many of them were still living at home with their parents, so then we'd wake the whole family and sing a few songs at each place. Then we brought the choir members with us and so with each visit there were more of us. The last people visited were our choir leaders, pastors and the janitors at the church.
The picture at the top of the post was taken at a mini Lucia concert outdoors in the park close to where I live, a little over a week ago. At five o'clock in the afternoon, it is already completely dark. It was only possible to take photos when they were on stage in the light.
Here is a clip I found on Youtube, so that you get one of the traditional songs as well: