Who is Lucia and why does she have her own day in Sweden?

A week today, on Friday the 13th, Sweden will spend the day celebrating its favourite Italian Catholic saint. You might have already even eaten a Lussekatt - a Lucia saffron bun - not realising you were eating a treat dedicated to the ubiquitous saint. So why do the Swedes embrace St. Lucia and what can you expect from the big day?

Who is Lucia and why does she have her own day in Sweden?
Lucia costumes. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

You’re probably surprised to find that Sweden, a secular country, is so committed to celebrating a Catholic saint. But the Swedes do love their traditions and Lucia on 13th December is one of the season’s big events. 

Early in the morning in schools and workplaces, a nominated girl or young woman will wear a white dress and don a crown of (LED) candles on her head. You may also spot processions of children all dressed in white, the girls wearing the candle wreaths – boys too will join as Lucia’s assistants known as ‘star boys’, also wearing white robes but instead of crowns they wear white pointed hats. 

Photo: Lena Granefelt/

So, who is this Lucia that the Swedes commemorate each year? According to biblical apocryphal texts, Lucia – or Lucy – was the daughter of a wealthy Sicilian family.  Her father died when she was five years old and her mother, Eutychia, arranged for Lucy to marry a young man from a wealthy pagan family.

Unknown to Eutychia, Lucy had vowed herself to God in the tradition of St. Agatha. She refused to marry and spurned all worldly possessions, instead wanting to distribute her dowry to the poor. News the she was planning to do this reached her suitor who, angry that the patrimony and jewels he believed rightfully belonged to him were being given away, denounced her to the Governor. 

When the guards came to take Lucy away, the story goes that they were unable to move her. They even tried hitching her to a team of oxen but still the girl could not be moved. Thwarted, they condemned her to death by fire but she could not be burned. Finally, she died by sword and upon her death became a Christian martyr, venerated each year on 13th December. 

It’s unclear how St. Lucia became such a significant figure in Swedish tradition. Under the Julian calendar, which Sweden followed until the 18th century, December 13th was the shortest day of the year. It was traditionally said that a maiden dressed in white robes wearing a crown of candles brought food to starving visitors. There may also be links to the German tradition of girls dressing as ‘Christ children’ and handing out presents. 

Photo: Emelie Asplund/

Sweden’s Lucia celebrations are often accompanied by glögg (sweet mulled wine), lussekatter (the previously-mentioned saffron buns with raisins), pepparkakkor (ginger snaps), and music, particularly the song Santa Lucia which has been given Swedish lyrics speaking of St. Lucia bringing light to the darkness (something we welcome in Sweden during this dark time of year!).

If you’ll miss out on the celebration in real life, you can always watch it on television. On the morning of the 13th, SVT broadcasts a traditional Lucia celebration.


Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.