Three things are certain of December in Sweden. It’s cold, it’s dark and it’s the month where St Lucia’s Day is celebrated. You see, December 13 is not just another day for Swedes, it is St Lucia’s Day, one of the biggest celebrations in the Swedish calendar (after Christmas and Swedish Mid Summer). The holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, honours the patron saint of Sweden on what is supposed to be one of the darkest days of the year.
So who is Saint Lucia?
While St Lucia is a venerated figure in Sweden, her roots are far from Scandinavian. She was in fact believed to be a Sicilian saint, known for her generosity to the poor and homeless. Secretly bringing food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, St Lucia would wear candles on her head so she could carry as many things as possible in both hands. Martyred at the age of 20 during the Roman persecution of Christians, stories of her courage and good deeds reached Sweden where she is referred to as Lucia Bride. The first ever Lucia celebration took place in 1927 Stockholm and since then, St Lucia’s Day has become a major fixture on the Swedish festival calendar.
How do the Swedes celebrate?
The morning of St Lucia’s Day sees the eldest daughter in the household don a long white gown with a red sash tied at the waist. On her head is a crown of 6 to 8 flaming candles, a nod to the candles St Lucia wore on her head, as well as being a symbol of light overcoming darkness. Her sisters also wear long white dresses but instead of real candles, they carry battery-powered light bulbs. Her brothers don long white gowns and wear pointed hats. In place of candles, they carry stars instead, hence why they’re called Star Boys or stjärngossar. Together the children serve coffee and saffron buns (known as Lussekatter) to their parents while singing traditional Santa Lucia songs.
St Lucia celebrations also take place in schools, churches, and pretty much most public places. Modern day celebrations have come to include a contest where towns and cities elect their own Lucia. To be chosen as the town’s Lucia is considered an honour for the young girl.
A celebration of hospitality, this beautiful festival of lights is certainly a magical way to kickstart the Christmas season in Sweden!