Today’s Swedish Holiday tradition is Lucia. Lucia is celebrated on this date, December 13, and is probably the most Christmassy of traditions except for the actual Christmas.
Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. The first recorded appearance of a white-clad Lucia was in 1764 but the custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s.
These days we’re celebrating with a candle lit procession with girls and boys in white full-length gowns singing traditional songs, choir style. It’s celebrated everywhere in Sweden, in daycare centers, schools, churches, offices, and homes for the elderly. Every town (more or less) elect their own Lucia, but we also have and official one for Sweden and that particular procession is filmed and showed on state television early in the morning. Young children as well as grownups can be Lucia.
Just to give you an idea of how big of a deal it is for us: On December 10th the Nobel Prize is awarded every year in Stockholm, and all the laureates are treated to a Lucia procession from our national Lucia. Parents around the country attend events in their kids’ schools and daycare centers. Even at work you’re allowed a couple of minutes away from your desk to watch the procession. As an expat, I can attend Lucia events at the embassy.
Lucia wears candles in her hair and she’s accompanied by several maidens holding candles in their hands and “star boys” who except for the robe wear a cone-shaped hat decorated with golden stars on their heads. When kids are in the procession they can also be dressed as Santa’s Elves or Gingerbread men. And with kids you can also have several Lucias, but for grown ups there’s only one. The Lucia doesn’t need to sing, but the rest of them are required to.
It might be easier to understand if you watch a clip? Here’s the entrance procession from the official celebration 2010 in a church in Stockholm. It’s 2,5 minutes or so. Oh, and the boys with cones on their heads are star boys, NOT members of the KKK 🙂
Translation of the first verse of the song to English:
The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
TL;DR: check out this Lucia For Dummies video 🙂