Traditional Sweden - Lucia
  • Lucia
  • Lutfisk
  • Midsommar
 

LUCIA

Lucia is one of Sweden’s most loved traditions and it is completely unique to Sweden. Lucia arrives with the light in the dark winter time and we celebrate her with harmonious music during the early hours on December 13th. We drink mulled wine, eat saffron buns and gingerbread cookies. We listen to the beautiful songs, a mixture of traditional Christmas songs and songs written especially for Lucia, wherever we may be; in school, at work or at home watching Lucia morning on TV.

The Lucia procession consists of a group of singers all dressed in floor lengths white gowns carrying live candles. A girl or woman representing Lucia walks at the head of the procession and carries a crown of candles on her head. She has a red ribbon around her waist, symbolising Lucia´s martyrdom and blood (see below). After her comes a group of girls or women wearing white silver garlands or evergreen wreaths on their heads, carrying a single candle in their hand (tärnor). The women are followed by the boys or men called star boys (stjärngossar). They wear cone-shaped hats decorated with golden stars and each carries either a big golden star or a single candle in their hand. Last in the procession you sometimes find Santa’s little helpers (tomtenissar) and others such as the gingerbread men (pepparkaksgubbar).

The Origins of the Lucia tradition:

Lucia is always celebrated on the 13th of December. According to the old Julian calendar this was the darkest night of the year and thus the winter solstice. In our current calendar the winter solstice occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December.

Lucia has origins from both pre-Christian and Christian customs. The name of the day comes from the Sicilian Saint Lucia (Lucy), who according to legend was betrayed and denounced by her fiancée because she was Christian. At this time in the Roman Empire, it was punishable to be Christian and she was sentenced to death. To revenge the betrayal, she tore out her eyes and sent them to her fiancée and then suffered the martyr death AD 304. Legend tells she was sentenced to be burned alive but when the fire refused to touch her one of the soldiers killed her by piercing her side with his sword (hence the red ribbon around the waist). Saint Lucia is now the patron saint of the blind and optometrists.

However, our tradition does not have anything to do with St Lucia. A probable theory is that our tradition originates from a German custom “Kinken Jes”, a character with a halo on her head distributing Christmas presents. Other explanations shift between saint and devil, since the name Lucia has similarities with Lucifer.

The first time Lucia becomes a tradition in Sweden is at the end of the 18th century outside Skövde. The tradition later spread around Sweden as well as to Åland and the Swedish speaking population in Finland. The popularity of Lucia had a massive increase in the 1920’s when Stockholms Dagblad (Swedish newspaper) arranged a competiotion to find a girl to represent Lucia, followed by a coronation and a public Lucia procession.

Source: Möllegården, Åkarp, ”Så firades julen förr” by Bert Olls and Nordiska museet

LUSSEVAKA

According to old folklore the night between the 12th and the 13th of December was a dangerous night as sorcerers and other dark characters were lurking around. Even the animals were said to be able to speak to humans. All doors were to be securely locked and latched and you made sure all newborn babies were baptized before Lucia, or else the trolls could take them.

Many associated Lucia with “Lussekärringen”, the Devils grandmother, who came in to the house early in the morning and put lice in the beds of those who slept the longest. To avoid her and the lice, everybody would rise shortly after midnight and eat the first of up to seven (!) breakfasts that night, together with the first shot of vodka. The number of drinks increased everyday up to 20 shots on “Tjugondan” (13th of January).

But it was also essential to work diligently during the night as at daybreak on the 13th of December all the work relating to the harvest had to be completed to avoid a bad harvest the next year. All other work was also to be done on the day of Lucia because that’s when Christmas started and it lasted until “Tjugondan”. During the Christmas holidays one was only supposed to rest, eat and be merry.

Today we call this night “Lussevaka” and it is mostly celebrated by young people who use it as an excuse not to go to bed and stay up partying through the night and then go directly to the early morning Lucia processions on the 13th. In modern times it has become a custom to wake the new Nobel Prize winners with an early morning Lucia procession.

 

Source: Möllegården, Åkarp, ”Så firades julen förr” by Bert Olls and Nordiska museet