Posted by: anna | December 13, 2006


Idag firar vi Luciadagen! Today in Scandinavia, especially Sweden, and in Scandihoovian homes everywhere, we celebrate the feast of St Lucy.

photo from here

According to legend, Lucia was an Italian virgin martyr in the early 4th century. Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia’s version, and here is the one from The Golden Legend, a very popular medieval collection of saints’ lives (but a rather awkward translation).

How this legend came to Sweden in the first place is still a mystery to me. It seems to be a modern invention in its current form, but as with so many of Christianity’s most successful grafts of faith, it has been laid over an old semi-pagan longest-nights-of-winter tradition. I would like to see some historical account of the celebration of this feast.

Anyway, this is what happens now: while the rest of the family is still asleep, the oldest daughter dresses in a white robe with a red sash, puts a crown of candles, often set in a wreath of greenery, on her head, and takes saffron buns and coffee to her still-abed family. She sings one of the special Lucia songs, which are all set to an old Neapolitan tune. (The original words of the tune speak of the beauty of a district of Naples called St Lucia). The words we sing at home are ‘Natten går tunga fjät’ (The night walks with heavy steps), written in 1928 by Arvid Rosén, whose wife Ninni was my father’s godmother and for whom my sister is named. The white robe symbolizes Lucia’s virgin purity, the red sash and crown her martyr status, the candles the fire with which she could not be burned and a sort of rebus on her name, which is derived from Latin lux, light.

Aside from family celebrations, there are often church and municipal Lucia events. This usually includes a big Lucia procession, in which Lucia’s attendants, the ‘Lucia girls’, similarly dressed but with white sashes and carrying one candle, may also sing the Lucia songs. Boys join in as stjärngossar (star boys), tomtenissar (see tomorrow) or pepparkaksgubbar (gingerbread men). The Lucia pageant is the cultural if not liturgical equivalent of the Nativity play in English-speaking countries.

This is the beginning of the Swedish Christmas season, a prelude to Christmas and its promise at the darkest time of the year that light will come again.
This year I finally managed to make lussekatter, special saffron buns. There are lots of traditional shapes – the most usual is an S shape with raisins in the coils. The one on top is a crown.


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