St Lucia's Day- 13 December
December 13th is the “name day” of St Lucia, a young girl who was martyred for her Christian beliefs in the 4th century in Sicily at the time of Emperor Diocletian.
However, it is in Sweden that she is most remembered today. On the early morning of December 13th the Swedish households, mother or daughter, niece or granddaughter is appointed to act the part of Lucia by wearing a long sleeved white robe with a red sash around the waist and on her head she wears a wreath of seven lighted candles and wakes the other family members by serving them morning coffee, buns and "pepparkakor" (ginger snaps)singing the ancient Lucia song, “Santa Lucia”.
There are several explanations for St Lucia’s traditional association with candles and light. According to one legend, she used to take food each night to fellow Christians hiding in catacombs in Rome and wore candles in her hair to keep her hands free. However the connection probably arose because under the old Julian calendar her name day fell on the day of the winter solstice when traditional festivals of light took place.
No one exactly know how and when the custom of celebrating St Lucia’s day spread to Sweden although it does not seem to have occurred before the 18th century. Even well into this century, the custom was restricted to a few families in some rural districts mainly in western Sweden.
In the late 1920s however shopping centres of Stockholm began to introduce Christmas processions along the streets. These processions were always led by a Lucia figure, dressed in white and the popularity of St Lucia spread rapidly after that.
These days, St Lucia’s Day is celebrated not only in homes but also in school, offices, hospitals nursing homes and factories which often hold their pre-Christmas parties on December 13th.
St Lucia’s Day is one of the shortest days of the year. Swedish children get up early in the morning. The girls put on long, white linen gowns with a red ribbon round their waist and they put a crown of candles on their heads.
Nowadays, the candles have bulbs and batteries. When candles were used, girls sometimes had accidents and burned their hair. The boys put on long white shirts and pointed hats. The children then make trays with coffee and Lucia “cats”- saffron rolls and treat their parents to coffee in bed. Then they go to school, where there will be a long Lucia procession with the girls and boys dressed in white, walking behind the girl who is Lucia. Sometimes Lucia is accompanied by "star boys' who wear pointed hats and carry wands.
Even though it is not officially part of Advent, St Lucia’s day marks the beginning of Christmas festivities in Sweden.