In our last installment of Holiday Traditions Around the World, we will uncover traditions of the St. Lucia holiday in Sweden. We at Cultural Awareness International thank you for following this series and wish you and yours a very happy holiday season!
St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden
The Swedish Christmas season begins each year with St. Lucia Day on December 13. The holiday recognizes St. Lucia, a young Christian girl who was martyred in 304 AD. Lucia came from a wealthy Sicilian family and carried food to Christians hiding in underground tunnels during the early days of Christian persecution. In order to see in the dark tunnels, she wore a crown of candles on her head. There are several conflicting stories on why she was eventually killed. Most people, however, believe that Lucia had vowed to be a devout Christian and remain a virgin, and was therefore killed for refusing to denounce her beliefs and get married.
Today, the holiday is a day to reflect on love and light, and Swedish families celebrate in their homes as well as in their communities. Early in the morning on December 13, the eldest daughter in each home will prepare her family a tray of coffee and Lussekatts, saffron St. Lucia buns. Dressed in a long white gown with a red sash at her waist and wearing a crown of lit candles, she will sing the traditional St. Lucia song and carry breakfast in to wake her family.
Schools often choose a girl to represent St. Lucia and some towns and villages also hold a Lucia contest for all girls that have reached a certain age. Being chosen as the town’s Lucia is an honor for any young lady. Along with being the center of attention for all community festivities, the town’s chosen St. Lucia will visit hospitals and nursing homes, singing the saint’s song and handing out traditional Swedish Christmas cookies called Pepparkakor, which are similar to a ginger snap. On St. Lucia’s Day, schools, offices, and communities sponsor candlelight processions in the evening. The chosen St. Lucia participates in the parade along with younger girls that serve as attendants and boys that serve as “star boys.” Lucia’s crown glows in the darkness, and all children hold candles as they sing carols, first somber and then light-hearted.
- St. Lucia’s crown is made of Lingonberry branches, which are evergreen, and symbolize new life in winter.
- Many people in Sweden believe that miracles occur at midnight of St. Lucia’s Eve.
- Christmas in Sweden is called Jul. The origin of the word is uncertain, but in prehistoric times “julblot” was a ceremony held at the time fo the winter solstice to worship the fact that days would begin getting longer and nights shorter.
More information on St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden can be found at: