December 13th is a special day in Sweden. On this day in churches, schools and homes around the country, a young girl parades with ‘light in her hair’ while snacks are shared and greetings exchanged. St Lucia Day is a distinctly Swedish occasion and is a highlight for any visitor that happens to be in Sweden when the festivities take place.
Who is St Lucia?
There are two markedly different explanations as to the origins of the Lucy involved. Some claim she is Lucy of Syracuse, a Sicilian martyr from the 4th century. Others suggest a darker figure, that of Lussi, a witch of evil intent who would fly through the sky on Lussinatta and making her way down the chimneys of houses to steal naughty children from their parents.
Most people believe that the celebrations of St Lucia are a combination of the Christian and ancient Scandinavian traditions.
What happens on St Lucia Day?
A Lucia is chosen each year in advance of the festivities. In some places she is even elected in the closest that Swedish culture gets to beauty pageant. The Lucy then parades with her circle of light, usually a ring of battery-powered lights, with her handmaidens and starboys in tow. Parents watch as the troupe passes by before sharing out ginger snaps and saffron buns. Special songs are sung that celebrate Lucia, each one involving the theme of bring light to the darkness of the long winter nights.
Where can visitors enjoy St Lucia Day?
Visitors to Stockholm on December 13th can observe the festivities in any church. Several Lucy parades take place throughout the day in each church and many are so popular that they sell tickets for entry. The downside for English visitors is that the celebration takes place in Swedish and so can be difficult to follow.
An alternative is to head to Skansen, the outdoor cultural museum on the outskirts of Stockholm. Here you can witness the St Lucia Day parade at various times throughout the day and evening and you may even get to enjoy the traditional snacks that are an important part of the day. Wrap up warm though, as December in Stockholm is rarely warm!