Lucia – The Swedish day of Saint Lucy
Saint Lucy’s Day is a Christian day of festivity, held on the 13th of December. Although it is celebrated in most Nordic countries, it is nowhere as big as in Sweden. They call it Luciadagen or simply Lucia. Alongside Midsummer, the Lucia celebrations represent one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, with their clear reference to life in the peasant communities where you had to light up the darkness and fight the cold.
Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. It is not clear who the original Lucy really was, but according to Swedish beliefs there are two candidates.
First, St Lucia of Syracuse, a virgin martyr who died in 304 under the Diocletian Persecution. According to the legend, she brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a candle lit wreath on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible.
Second candidate is a woman that Swedes believe was Adam’s first wife, called Lusse. Before there was Adam and Eve, there was Adam and Lusse 😊 It is said that she consorted with the Devil and that her children were invisible infernals. Her name may be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan).
It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during Lucia night. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since the satanic Lusse could come down through the chimney and take them away.
…Yup, you can count on Nordic people to have a dark twist on all beautiful festivities!
So, to be fully alert the Swedes have a Lusse wake, where you must stay awake through the whole night to guard yourself against evil. The modern version is to party until daybreak.
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Julian (Caesar) calendar, which Scandinavians followed until the mid-18th century.
Today, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated by a candlelit Lucia procession (Luciatåg) led by a group of girls dressed up in white dresses, with a red sash round their waist. One girl is chosen to be the Lucia and she wears a crown of evergreen branches and candles on her head, the others have a single candle in their hand. For safety, the candles are sometimes battery powered. The audience watches them as they march on in the dark, singing songs. A real moment of Advent hygge.