Advent Calendar / 12 December
Tomorrow on 13 December we celebrate St Lucia, or St Lucy’s Day in Sweden (and in the other Scandinavian countries as well). It’s not an official holiday, but a very popular occasion in Sweden, celebrated everywhere: at home, publically in the town, in schools, work-places and churches.
This year, as 13 December falls on a Monday, some of the official celebrations are likely to take place on the weekend instead.
But Lucia is also traditionally an early morning event so no doubt there will be Lucia celebrations on Monday morning too.
The girl or woman appointed “Lucia” wears a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head. She walks at the head of a procession of other girls/women (her “maids”) wearing similar white gowns and carrying candles. There may also be boys in the procession, dressed up as “star boys” or (especially with younger children) sometimes in other Christmas-inspired costumes. As Lucia is associated with the Christian martyr St Lucy (283-304), the star boys are associated with St Stephen (the first Christian martyr). While entering the room, they sing a Lucia song describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness.They then go on to singing more Lucia and Christmas carols and songs.
Older Swedish traditions may have gone before, but the current Lucia tradition of a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day is said to have started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.
When the celebration takes place in private homes, Lucia traditionally brings Lucia buns, ginger biscuits and coffee.
Some people prefer the Lucia buns made with saffron, some without. (I like them with saffron, although that was not the tradition in my home when I grew up.) The ginger biscuits come in all kinds of shapes, and lots of varieties in the ingredients too.
The modern tradition of having public Lucia processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm. This spread throughout the country and every town now usually have their own. A national celebration is also broadcasted each year by Swedish television.
Below you can watch the beginning of such a Lucia celebration from Växjö Cathedral in 2009. (Växjö is in South-East Sweden).