13. December Swedish Luciafest: In the middle of winter a light celebration lights up the country
While it is light all day in summertime in Sweden north of the Arctic Circle, it is the other way around in wintertime. December is the darkest month in Sweden, in northern Sweden you don’t even get to see the sun on some days. On other days, the sun barely makes it over the horizon before it sets again, enveloping everything in darkness.
In this time the traditional Luciafest should bring the light back to the people and illuminate the darkness, why it is also called festival of lights. The feast of Lucia falls on the 13th. December and is regarded in Sweden and other Nordic countries as the counterpart to Midsummer Night, the longest day of the year.
Before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Sweden, the 13th day of the month was celebrated. December as the shortest day of the year, it dated until 1752 the day of the winter solstice. Even though the 13. Although December no longer coincides with the winter solstice, this day for the festivities in honor of St. Lucia has nevertheless persisted until today.
Luciafest is celebrated in honor of Saint Lucia
The history of the Luciafest can be traced back to 4. Tracing back to the nineteenth century. The Christian holiday commemorates the martyr Lucia of Syracuse, who, according to legend, brought food to the poor and sick hiding in the catacombs of the city. In order to be able to see in the darkness and at the same time have her hands free, the self-confident benefactress put a wreath of candles on her head.
Traditionally, the eldest daughter of a family embodies Saint Lucia. She wears a white robe with a red ribbon and a wreath with candles on her head. In some families, the daughter prepares breakfast on Lucifer’s Day, while others maintain the tradition by going door-to-door and bringing the light and some food to the neighborhood. But if the little girls in Sweden have their way, everyone can be a Lucia on this day.
Light is a central element throughout the country throughout the day, which is not a public holiday in Sweden. In kindergartens and schools, in offices and public places and in churches, candles are lit and Saint Lucia is remembered. In some cities there are big parades and concerts, some of them are broadcasted on Swedish television.
A queen of lights leads the Lucia procession
Singing processions in white robes, led by Saint Lucia as the Queen of Lights, parade through the streets, followed by audiences and flickering candlelight. Young children like to dress up as Christmas elves and accompany the procession, while boys pretend to be star boys – with pointed hats and sticks decorated with stars.
In some places, the Queen of Lights takes her procession – based on the legend of Lucia of Syracuse – singing through old people’s homes, hospitals and hospices to bring light to the old and sick.
Children love Swedish lussekatter
But not only light, pastries are often part of the gifts Lucia brings to the people. In Sweden, these are mainly crispy gingerbread and lussekatter, soft yeast pastries with saffron and raisins. Lussekatter have the same cult status in Sweden as the famous cinnamon buns.
However, there is one important difference: lussekatter are baked only in December and are eaten only between St. Lucia’s Day and Christmas. Indeed, many Swedes would consider it pure blasphemy to eat the sweet yeast pastry before Lucia or after Christmas. The pastries are usually accompanied by mulled wine ("glogg") or coffee.
Luciafest also in other parts of Scandinavia
What originally began as a saint’s festival is now more of a cultural custom. Many towns and communities now choose their own Lucia every year, usually a girl between 15 and 18 years old, who then embodies this role until Midsummer. An official Lucia is also determined every year in Sweden during a competition. The crowning of "Lucia of Sweden takes place at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm.
The Swedish variant of the Luciafest enjoys also beyond the national borders of increasing popularity. In Norway they celebrate the Luciadagen, with customs and traditions not dissimilar to the Swedish ones. Lussekatt, a cookie, is also an integral part of the procession. In Finland people celebrate Lucian paiva and in Denmark the Lucia celebration took place for the first time in 1944.