• Sweden's news in English
 
Christmas in Sweden
The Lowdown: Lucia in Sweden

The Lowdown: Lucia in Sweden

Published: 13 Dec 2010 10:25 GMT+01:00
Updated: 13 Dec 2013 06:15 GMT+01:00

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.

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

All sounds very pleasant.

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.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

01:06 December 14, 2009 by estlandsgatan
There are plenty of odd bits as well (as if there aren't in nearly every religious tale). For starters, Lucia's mom was cured of a serious illness and, touched by her recovery, she gave away all her money (including Lucia's dowery) which caused Lucia's fiance to report them as Christians to the authorities. So Lucia poked out her own eyes. But then god gave Lucia her eyes back. The local authority tried to send her to a brothel, but the "1000 men and several oxen" couldn't pull her there. Then the local authority decided to try to burn her, but the fire didn't burn her. They poured boiling oil on her, but she was still unharmed. Then the local executioner cut her with a knife and she died.

So now -- to commemorate this saint -- kids dress up as Lucia, one of her bride's maids (not sure what wedding that referes to), or a star boy (representing the three wise men, but with a wardrobe that looks like a cross between the Pope and Klu Klux Klan), or a mini-Santa, or a giant gingerbread cookie.

Also, the main song they sing is about Lucia bringing the light during the dark winter (although the original song, from Italy, is really about an Italian fishing village of the same name) and another popular song is about the the pitter patter of santa's elves' feet and yet another song is about another saint (Staffan Stalledrang) who had nothing to do with St Lucia, but was the guy who saw the star that signified Jesus' birth. (When Staffan told King Herrod about it, Herrod said the birth of the King of the Jew was about as likely as the cooked rooster on his plate coming back to life, which it reportedly did -- and the rooster stood up and reportedly exclaimed "christ is born")

In otherwords, it seems to be a hodgepodge of convenient Christmas stuff that has been fused with lucia and staffan lore that has developed over the years. (In Smaland, many years ago the Lucia holiday was a big drinking day that included cows running around with Lucia crowns on. Some people would cross dress as well. Some even thought Lucia sounded like Lucifer, and were thus too suspicious of the day to work.)

So go and take pictures of your kids parading around as cookies or santas or Lucias and listen to the songs and have a good time. Most Swedes can take off work early to watch their kids, so enjoy the time off.
14:24 December 13, 2010 by roaringchicken92
Indeed -- enjoy the holiday, even if you don't understand the significance of it because of a strictly literal interpretation.
14:52 December 13, 2010 by stillwatersrd
Delightful! Thanks for the story, estlandsgatan.
19:21 December 15, 2010 by MikeSar
Go visit Linkoping, they do St. Lucia right! And, the wine and the singing and the people parading is all you need to feel there is more to life than good wine and good company, or is there?
13:57 December 13, 2011 by gabeltoon
It all sounds nice.Better that than the moody drunken rabble that happens here in the UK. It's time we Brits took a look at themselves and start to enjoy the season in a more traditional way. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.
14:48 December 13, 2011 by eltechno
I say any holiday that teaches children how to sing is a good holiday. Happy St. Lucia Day everyone!
Today's headlines
Video
The Viking town still using a Scottish sound
Åkeby is situated in south east Sweden. Photo: Shutterstock

The Viking town still using a Scottish sound

The way Swedes say 'no' is slightly different in one isolated town in the south of the country, where many Vikings settled in the 10th century after returning from Scotland. The Local's Maddy Savage has been to Åkeby in Kalmar to investigate why a strange, Scottish-sounding phrase has stuck around for centuries. READ  

Swedish Astrid Lindgren prize for African group
Books used by the winning PRAESA group. Photo: TT

Swedish Astrid Lindgren prize for African group

An association that promotes reading among children has become the first African group to win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's largest prize for children's and young people's literature. READ  

Opinion
Swedish firms must learn from Saudi business row
A Swedish workplace. Photo: Suzanne Walström/Image Bank Sweden

Swedish firms must learn from Saudi business row

Swedish companies worried about the nation's business links with the Arab world should instead be focussing on their own responsibility to promote and demonstrate ethical behaviour, argues business rights advisor Ruben Brunsveld. READ  

Canadian star sought for Sweden hockey attack
André Deveaux (left), Jens Hellgren and Mike Vernace celebrate a 0-2 win over Västerås on Sunday. Photo: Andreas Hillergren/TT

Canadian star sought for Sweden hockey attack

A Swedish prosecutor has ordered the arrest of Canadian ice hockey player André Deveaux after he was caught on video violently slashing an opponent in a pre-game warm-up for his club side in Ängelholm. READ  

US spy agency to feature in Stieg Larsson sequel
The actors playing Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist in the original Swedish movies based on the books. Photo. TT

US spy agency to feature in Stieg Larsson sequel

The sequel to Swedish author Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millenium crime trilogy, due for release in August, kicks off with an artificial intelligence intrigue involving a US spy agency, the book's publishers have revealed. READ  

Swedes rescue Syrian refugee's cat in Sicily
Mela the cat arrived in Sweden on Saturday. Photo: Minna Lind

Swedes rescue Syrian refugee's cat in Sicily

A Syrian refugee will be granted her wish this Easter after staff at a Swedish animal shelter rescued her long lost cat from quarantine in Sicily. READ  

Profit concerns push Swedish schools abroad
Pupils at the English School in Täby, one of several hugely popular schools run by Internationella Engelska Skolan. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Profit concerns push Swedish schools abroad

Sweden’s publicly funded free school model has attracted huge interest in the UK and elsewhere, but with profits in the schools sector under scrutiny from regulators the biggest firms are now expanding overseas. READ  

Sweden unemployment stable as EU reports dip
Immigrants, scour a newspaper's job pages.Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Sweden unemployment stable as EU reports dip

The EU has recorded the lowest jobless rate across the 28 nation bloc since 2012, with unemployment in Sweden remaining largely stable over the last three months. READ  

Jay Z rebrands Nordic streaming service
Jay Z launching the service. Photo: Brad Barket/TT

Jay Z rebrands Nordic streaming service

Rap mogul Jay Z launched a rebranded music streaming service on Monday with major star backing, after buying the Scandinavian sites Tidal and Wimp and their parent company Aspiro earlier this month. READ  

Beaver bites bus passenger in Sweden
Not the beaver in question. Photo: Daniel Rose/Shutterstock

Beaver bites bus passenger in Sweden

A man who was bitten by a beaver at a bus stop in Tyresö, south of Stockholm, has been describing the snappy attack. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Åreda
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'
Was Swedish TV host too harsh on nationalist leader Åkesson?
National
Travelling over Easter? Don't miss our guide to rail disruption
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
Blog updates

27 March

Celebrating Three Great English Exports In 2015 (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Deputy Head of Mission Aidan Liddle joins us for another guest blog today. In 2015, England..." READ »

 

27 March

Editor’s blog, March 27th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Europe remains in shock following the Germanwings plane crash in the Alps that killed 150..." READ »

 
 
 
Scandinavian airlines change cockpit rules after Greenwings crash
National
Sweden remembers Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer
Politics
Why petrol prices are going up
Gallery
People-watching: March 28th
What's on in Sweden: March 26th - April 2nd
Stieg Larsson's partner blasts Millennium trilogy sequel
Society
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Gallery
People-watching: March 25th
National
Which words are changing in Sweden's latest dictionary?
National
Is this house 'un-Swedish'?
National
Sweden pays tribute to victims of Germanwings Alps crash
National
Neo-Nazi activity rising in Sweden
National
How to make Swedish Waffles
Gallery
Property of the week: Torslanda - Hjuvik
National
Stray dog Arthur moves in with Swedish owners
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
National
Sweden triples maximum limit at asylum centres
Gallery
People-watching: March 21st
National
Why elderly Swedes are among the world's happiest people
National
TIMELINE: Gothenburg shootings
National
Can Sweden's feminist party score success in neighbouring Norway?
National
Why Brits can't get enough of Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's solar eclipse
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Royal wedding countdown begins
National
Viking ring reveals Islamic ties
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: March 18th
National
One in three Russian diplomats are spies, says Sweden's Security Service
National
Hitchcock opera set to hit Gothenburg stage
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Northern Lights on show across Sweden
Technology
Why Swedish pop star Robyn is pushing for more girls in tech
Gallery
Property of the week: Umeå
National
Introducing Sweden's Eurovision 2015 entry Måns Zelmerlöw
Gallery
People-watching: March 13th - 15th
National
Why have Swedish prosecutors made a U-turn in Julian Assange case?
Sponsored Article
How Sweden and India can work together
Politics
Who's the new young leader of the Christian Democrats?
Travel
Why are Swedes so obsessed with Mallorca?
Gallery
Princess Estelle celebrates her mother's name day in Stockholm
National
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Obama's anti-Semitism team heads to Stockholm and Malmö
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

3,442
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se