Archive for the ‘Saint Lucia Day; Sweden’ Category

Saint Lucia Day in Sweden

December 9, 2017

Saint Lucia Day processions take place annually on December 13 in Sweden.  Saint Lucia Day (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day, the Feast Day of Saint Lucy of Syracuse and Little Yule) includes a Swedish custom with girls and boys wearing white, full-length gowns and singing songs together. The singing procession of boys and girls is led by a girl chosen to be Lucia (also known as the Lucia Bride).

There is a competition for the role of Lucia/  Although Sweden has always sought to avoid ranking people, the Lucia celebration has been an exception.

Lucia wears a wreath with five burning candles affixed to it.  (For safety purposes, battery-powered light bulbs have largely replaced real candles.)  The wreath is made of Lingonberry branches. Tradition has it that Lucia is to wear “light in her hair.”  Along with Lucia there are Handmaidens and Star Boys (Stjarngossars).  The Handmaidens wear brilliant red sashes and carry a single candle (or light bulb) or also wear a wreath of candles (or light bulbs) on their heads.  The red sashes are to remind of Saint Lucia’s martyrdom. The Star Boys carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads.

The many Lucia songs all have the same theme: the days have become short and dark; the darkness is lighted up Lucia bearing lighted candles.  The most famous lyrics versions in Swedish are Luciasangen (“Saint Lucy, bright illusion”), Natten gar tunga fjat (“Night walks with heavy step”) and Ute ar morkt och kallt (“Outside is dark and cold.”).  Here is one versions of Santa Lucia:


Night walks with heavy step, round yard and hearth, as the sun departs from earth, shadows are brooding. There in our dark house, walking with lit candles, Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent, now hear its gentle wings, in every room so hushed, whispering like wings.  Look, at our threshold stands, white-clad with light her hair, Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon, from earth’s valleys.  So she speaks, wonderful words to us, a new day will rise again, from the rosy sky, Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavored buns (lussekatter), which are shaped like curled-up cats with raisin eyes.  The buns are often eaten with glogg or coffee.

Saint Lucia Day marks the beginning of the Christmas season.  It is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year.  Families observed Saint Lucia Day in their homes by having one of the daughters (traditionally the eldest) dress in a white robe and serve coffee and baked goods such as lussekatter and ginger biscuits.  Saint Lucia saffron buns take about 2-1/2 hours to prepare and 12 minutes to bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).

The first appearance of a white-clad Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations began promoting it.  Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927.

In agrarian Sweden, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs.  The old lussegubbar custom virtually disappeared with urban migration.  White-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful carousals of the past.

Under the Julian calendar, December 13 was the Winter Solstice.  Thus, the saying: “Lucy light, the shortest day and the longest night.”  Lucy means “light.”

Saint Lucia Day is in honor of Saint Lucia, a young girl from Syracuse, Sicilly, who was one of the earliest Christian martyrs.  She was killed by the Romans in 304 CE because of her religious beliefs.

Saint Lucia Day is also celebrated in Norway and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland.  In Finland, Luciadagen is observed a week before the Winter Solstice.