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The Local's guide to Lucia in Sweden

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Lucia celebrations in Sweden. Photo: Cecilia Larsson/Image Bank Sweden
10:25 CET+01:00
It's one of the most enduring Swedish winter traditions. Lucia brings some much needed light into Sweden's winter darkness as The Local's James Savage explains.

My colleagues have told me to get up early for Lucia. Who is Lucia?

Lucia is, or was, St. Lucy, a Catholic saint martyred in Syracuse in 304 AD. In Sweden, she is celebrated in early morning ceremonies on December 13th. In schools and workplaces, a nominated girl or young woman will don a white dress and wear a wreath of candles on her head. The ceremony is usually accompanied by early morning servings of glögg (sweet mulled wine), lussekatter (St. Lucy buns) and ginger snaps.

Why does Sweden go so big on Lucia?

Quite how St. Lucy worked her way into Swedish tradition is unclear, but December 13th was the shortest day of the year under the Julian calendar, which Sweden followed until the 18th century.

It is traditionally held that a maiden dressed in white robes and wearing a crown of candles brought food to starving villagers on the shore of Lake Vänern. Lucia also has links to a German tradition of girls dressing as "Christ children," handing out Christmas presents.

Traditionally, Lucia processions would be held in the home, with daughters dressing up and bringing coffee to their parents. Now, the practice is widespread in workplaces and schools, and newspapers frequently run Lucia competitions for readers.

Is this just something for the girls?

Even in these days of sexual equality, the girls have pretty much got Lucia wrapped up. Still, men are now allowed walk-on parts as Lucia's acolytes, known as "stjärngossar" or "star boys." They also wear the long white robes, but instead of the crowns they wear white, pointy hats.

Didn't I hear something about a song?

Indeed, the Lucia celebrations are accompanied by music, particularly the Neapolitan Song Santa Lucia, which has been given Swedish Lyrics which speak of St. Lucy bringing light in the darkness. It's haunting melody make it a firm favourite for many Swedes.

Sounds lovely, but I'm not keen on getting up early to attend one of these celebrations

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You could always watch it on TV - SVT always broadcasts a traditional Lucia celebration early on the morning of the 13th.

So it's all rather pleasant then?

It is. There is a more raucous side, however, with Lucia night celebrated by high school pupils partying all night to celebrate the approach of the Christmas holidays.

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