Sweden’s Lucia celebrations, which honour the Catholic Saint Lucy, rival Christmas in terms of the significance Swede’s place on the holiday.
Tradition dictates that schools around the country mark the occasion by picking a girl to don a white robe and place a wreath of candles on her head in order to add a little warmth and light to the darkest time of the year.
Boys are generally relegated to supporting roles in the festivities, usually walking behind the Lucia as stjärngossar (star boys) to complete the entourage.
This year, however, a few schools in Sweden attempted to buck tradition by nominating a boy as the school’s Lucia.
The results demonstrate that limits in Sweden still exist when calls for gender equity clash with time honoured holiday traditions.
In Karlstad in central Sweden, students at Lillerud high school nominated one of their male classmates following lobbying by the student council.
“Issues of equality are always relevant. It’s important to bring it up in every instance,” said student council member Jonas Kerven to the Nya Wermlands-Tidningen newspaper.
But the council’s efforts to bring equality to the Lucia contest ended prematurely after the male candidate quit following a barrage of harassing emails and internet forum posts in which he was called “perverse” and “an idiot”.
The path to claiming the Lucia crown also proved difficult for Freddy Karlberg, a student in Motala in south central Sweden.
Even though he received the most votes in his school’s Lucia nomination, principal Birgitta Wessman declared the girl who came in second place the winner, snatching the Lucia title which had seemed to be in Karlberg’s grasp.
“It has nothing to do with gender,” she told the Motala och Vadstena Tidning newspaper, explaining that the school had simply decided to celebrate Lucia in a traditional fashion.
Karlberg questioned why the school had let him run in the first place if his Lucia candidacy was doomed from the start.
Wessman responded by calling his candidacy a breakdown in “adult responsibility” and that she would have stopped Karlberg from running had she known soon enough.
But for Johan Gustafsson, a high school student from Jönköping in central Sweden, the quest for Lucia glory ended with an uneasy compromise in which both Gustafsson and a female classmate, Veronica Ahlund, were allowed to have Lucia’s crown of candles placed on their heads.
“I wanted to do something that people will remember me for,” said Gustafsson to the Metro newspaper.
Gustafsson hopes his school’s example will inspire others around the country to take a fresh look at the old traditions associated with Lucia celebrations in Sweden.
“It’s a disgrace that some schools don’t let guys be Lucia. Why couldn’t Lucia be a guy?” he said.
But even Gustafsson’s co-winner still has a hard time accepting her fellow male Lucia.
“I prefer a traditional Lucia, the real Lucia was in fact a woman,” she told Metro, adding that, in the end, she had accepted sharing the Lucia crown with Gustafsson.