TODAY in Sweden nearly every home, school, hospital, factory, workplace, church, hotel and restaurant is celebrating LUCIA.
Lucia is the Bringer of Light and is celebrated on what, in the old almanac, was the darkest day of the year. The day is one of light, hope and love. The tradition has its roots in St. Lucia of Syracuse who died as a martyr in AD304.
Whilst the dark holds its firm grip on night, households across the country waken and quietly prepare. The long white gowns will have been carefully ironed the day before, the red sash belts laid out, candles and matches placed at the ready.
Lucia herself carries a crown of candles on her head. These are often now battery powered but not too long ago normal wax candles were used. The crown was placed on a damp handkerchief on the head. As the wax melted onto the damp fabric, a sizzling sound could be heard by those closest.
As well as Lucia there are her attendants, tärnor, who are dressed in white gowns with a silver glitter circle on their heads and carrying a lit candle.
In the later years a place was also made for boys, mainly as Star boys, stjärngossar, wearing a white gown, a pointed conic hat with a star and carrying a silver star stave. Recently younger boys are also dressed as gingerbread men.
The hushed bustle of the waiting crowd falls to stillness and into the darkness comes Lucia and her train, the glittering light from the candles heralding her visit, traditional songs sending a dusting of heaven across the darkness.
At this point both men and women are tear-eyed.
As the Lucia train approaches the songs ring light and clear. One is ‘Sankta Lucia’, which is the song that epitomises Lucia. Its evocative tones weave their way into my soul. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this.
Here is the translation of the first verse:
‘The darkness lies weightily
on fields and cottages
in places forgotten by the sun
the shadows brood.
Into our dark homes She steps
with lighted candles on her head
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.’
The spirits continue to soar as Lucia and her attendants come to a halt, either at the front of a larger gathering or if at a home in front of the rest of the family.
Now other festive songs lilt their way across the break of morning, the star boys even having their own solo performance. The mystical magical aura shimmers in the candlelight, spreading across the nation.
Being Sweden no festive occasion would be complete without its own traditional fare.
Particular for this day are Lussekatter (Lucia Kitten Buns), which are made with saffron.
Also on offer are pepparkakor, cinnamon/ginger biscuits. Although many in Sweden now buy theirs, we still make ours and here are some we (my mother, son and I) made yesterday.
Finally on offer for this early morning feast is the special braided Luciabröd (Lucia Bread). To drink there is either coffee, milk or for the more daring a cup of julglögg.
Please, join me today, on this special Lucia day for a cup of coffee or glögg. Help yourself to Pepparkakor. Enjoy the song below whilst you nibble away.
Happy Lucia to you all!