Light has always had a special place in Sweden. Even in the darkest of winter, as I walk through the city streets there are lights in every window from candles, lamps, and Christmas decorations illuminating the snow clad buildings. It makes me realise how much people actually miss sunshine and long summer nights. The longing for light in Sweden culminates around one of the shortest days of the year- December 13, called “Luciadagen”.
December 13 is devoted to the martyr Lucia, a Christian virgin who lived in Syracuse in the third century. However, the Swedish Lucia celebration of today has very little to do with Italy. During the 19th century the feast of Lucia was primarily held in homes as a celebration of hope and light returning back to the world. The major public breakthrough for Lucia occurred in 1927 when a newspaper arranged a Lucia procession through Stockholm.
So how is Santa Lucia celebrated today? One of the essential parts is “Luciatåget” which is a parade of white-clad girls holding candles, led by the Lucia. The Lucia has lit candles in a wreath on her head, and leads the other girls as they sing carols with the choir. Nowadays, to include everybody, the children are also dressed up as cookies, stars and elves. Making them a colorful bunch. Lucia concerts are held in many churches, sport arenas, and also in schools, old people’s homes and hospitals. Every year I watch the live concert on national TV from a Luciatåg in the forest in the north of Sweden. I am moved by how the beautiful angelic voices of the Luciatåg pierce the silence and darkness of the winter night. There is something magical about it I cannot fully explain, it is definitely worth experiencing.
There can be no celebration without good food! Luciadagen has some tasty options to offer to the ones celebrating. It involves eating sweet saffron buns called lussekatter. They are absolutely essential and it is the only time of the year when saffron is added to bread. The other foods associated with Lucia are glögg (mulled wine served with almonds and raisins), coffee and heart-shaped pepparkakor (gingerbread). My favourite is definitely glögg! Its sweetness and smell reminds me of the upcoming Christmas holidays!
But let’s celebrate Santa Lucia first!