Santa Lucia, Lucia Day, a Christmas tradition in Sweden!
On 13 December both grownups and children of all ages wake up early in the morning! It is the day when we celebrate Santa Lucia in Sweden! This special morning, around 06:00, everywhere one can see adults who are trying to get tired young children on the move, or in cars, with white long dresses, chandeliers and star boy cones! Or you can see people dressed up in white long dresses walking towards the location where they are supposed to light up the day for somebody! This is not as bad as it sounds; it is a long-awaited day that everyone has prepared carefully. Lucia performs both nationally, as Lucia of Sweden, but also in every town, every village, every school, every preschool, every hospital, every retirement home and at many working places. Everywhere where there is a group who wants to lighten up the day for others!
The preparations start long before 13 December. First, Lucia must be elected, which is done by voting between the girls who has offered to participate. Important requirement for the participants are that they must be able to sing! The candidates are presented in the local newspaper or in the grocery store a few weeks in advance and the local newspaper subscribers or customers are asked to vote for the candidates. The tradition says that Lucia should have long blond hair, but now days it is just as common with Lucia with brown or dark hair. The others who are not elected as Lucia become maids. Lucia is wearing a crown of candles on her head, a white long dress and a long red sash knitted around her waist with the ends hanging down in front. Lucia walks at the head of a procession of women and men, the maids and the star boys. Each maid is also dressed in white, and sometimes they have red sash as well. The maids hold a candle in their hand and have wreaths of green cranberry or occasionally tinsel on their heads. The star boys are also dressed in long white dresses and have a cone shaped white hat with golden stars on it on their head. They also have a stick with a golden star at the top of the stick in their hand.
Lucia celebration is an very important part of Christmas celebrations, and it a symbol for light and lighter days.
History of Lucia!
Lucia´s origin is difficult to identify and the celebration of Lucia has both pagan and Christian origin. By the years, the celebration has become a blend of different traditions. The origin is said to be traced both to the martyr Lucia in Sicily and to the myth of Adam´s first wife. Adams wife had links to the devil and her children became invisible. So, the word Lucia can be linked to both light and darkness, and the devil. In the Middle Ages, Lucia was the year's longest night according to the calendar used back then. People believed that evil forces were out and torn humans during that night. Therefore, it was best to stay awake and keep the candles lit the whole night.The night was therefore called "Lusse long night".
As the tradition comes from the old farming community it was custom that both the slaughter and threshing would be over by Lucia and sheds should be filled before Christmas. In agrarian society the younger people had their own traditions during the dark long night. They where going around from house to house and sang songs to raise money, begging for food and liquor. The songs where about liquor and gifts and was called "Staffan songs". Even today, Staffan songs are sung and it is said to have originated from this period. Later came the tradition of a female dressed in white who would be involved as part of the guarding. The woman would also have a candle wreath on her head to counteract the forces of darkness. The Holy Lucia has its Saint´s day on 13 December but there isn't any proof that the Swedish celebration have anything to do with the Holy Lucia. But at least, Lucia is one of the few festivals in the Scandinavian Protestant countries that may be linked to a saint: Saint Lucy, who died in the 300s as a martyr.
In the homes of the upper class, the with dressed Lucia appeared in late 1700s. Among the ordinary people it took until 1900 before it was a custom. When people moved to the cities, the old tradition with boys going around singing and begging lost in importance, and the white dressed Lucia with her singing entourage of star boys and maidens were consider a more worthy and finer celebration than the youtful antics. In 1972 Stockholm proclaimed the first Lucia. The custom of serving coffee and Lucia buns is dating to the 1880s, even though the buns had been baked long before that.
Our celebration is a mix of many traditions during time, and somewhere during time, hymns and Christmas carols was added to the Lucia celebration. In our time, we have preserved the white dressed women, the candles, the gifts, the hymns and the Christmas carols.
All Swedes can sing the Lucia song, as well as the others songs and sings along, sometimes more willingly than good!
Traditionally eating and drinks at Lucia celebration!
Important ingredients on this day is also a type of gingerbread cookies that we call Pepparkakor, or maybe you know them as Swedish Thins and something we call "lussecats"! It is a sweat bread with saffron,that is shaped like cats with eyes of raisins!
If you want a recipe or tips about Swedish Thins please follow this link!
To the cookies, juice, Swedish or coffee is served.
Children celebrating Saint Lucia
I remember my daughter’s first Lucia celebration at her nursery school when she was three years old. I can assure you that it is a very moving performance! Preschool teachers have trained and have been singing Lucia songs with the children that are of ages between 1 and 6 years for several weeks as a daily song routine. At this age, it is of course no requirement that the children must be good or perform well, it is more an experience for them and a great start for learning an old tradition. But as a parent it is the most moving scene one can see. Since you know how beautiful this celebration is when adults perform, seeing children perform the Lucia celebration is a wonderful experience. As a parent one alter between laughing and crying!
In a Lucia train with adults there is only one Lucia and the rest are maids. But when children celebrate Lucia, anyone who wants can be Lucia. And there is no candlelight, but electric light. Traditionally boys are supposed to be star boys with star hats with the form of cones and a stick with a golden star on. But boys can also choose to be Lucia or maids if the want to, as well as girls can choose to be star boys. Other characters in the Lucia train can be gingerbread men/women, elves, Santa’s elves or bakers.
So, one leaves the child to preschool teachers with the child’s chosen suit and sits down as a spectator and wait.
And there they come; an adorable collection of mini Lucia’s with the Lucia crown askew, star boys who is waving or dragging the stars instead of holding them upright, Santa’s elves, padding in socks with enlarge hoods or the hoods askew.
The smallest children sing along as best as they can, and watch the somewhat older children who can the lyrics.
Here is a video with Lucia celebration. The video will give you a view of how it is supposed to be, when it is properly done!
The Staffan Song!
The Staffan Song is a very special song and are sung by the star boys. Staffan in the song was according to the legend Herod the Great´s stableman. It is a Nordic and English story about the martyr Saint Stephen. The lyric describe how Staffan discovers the star over Bethlehem while he attends to the five horses in the stable and the song also praise the five horses for their good qualities. During time the old Staffan song has been modernized and the video below is an example of a modern Staffan song!
The Lucia song!
The many songs sung by Lucia is much about the same theme, darkness and light! Here is the first verse in the traditional Lucia song that is sung when Lucia enters and leave the room:
"The night is heavy footsteps
around the farm and stow.
Around the earth, the sun forgave;
Then in our dark house
Rises with lit candles
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia "
Other songs that are sung are hymns and Christmas songs. Some of the songs are quite and solemn, while others are happy and funny. I hope you will enjoy the videos!