Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sankta Lucia

Today is St. Lucy's Day. Yes, one more Swedish tradition that didn't make it to my generation in California. Nor did we celebrate it at Saint John's Lutheran Church in Helena, Montana, though there I did get to experience other Advent and Christmas traditions immigrant Swedes brought with them.

The photo above I took from today's Church of Sweden front page. This article is from The Local, Sweden's news in English
The tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia of Italy in Sweden is honoured annually on 13th December. The total darkness of the Lucia early morning is broken by the glow of the Lucia figure dressed in a flowing gown of white and afire with a wreath of candles upon her head. Sankta Lucia, as she is known in Swedish, is a creature of goodness and light. She is a shining angel illuminating the way to the Christmas season.

The Lucia celebration originates from the Middle Ages when December 13th was the longest night of the year according to the Julian calendar. The Swedish Lucia has little in common with her namesake, also known in English as Saint Lucy, the Sicilian 4th century martyr. There is no certainty of the route the tradition took while establishing itself in Sweden.

However, it is popularly associated with a legend of a white-clad maiden, wearing a crown of burning candles. She appeared on the shores of Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern, bringing food to starving villagers during a time of famine. Ever since, she has been associated with light.

Today, the tradition is played out most often in the schools, churches and places of work before the dawn. A lucky girl dressed in a long white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles leads a procession. In tow are similarly dressed girls (tärnor) and boys wearing a tall pointed hat carrying a star wand (stjärngossar).

The rest of the procession is made up of girls and boys in similar dress sing beautifully haunting carols. Once the singing is over, the procession and its observers enjoy coffee and saffron-flavored buns called lussekatter.

Not too long ago the Lucia procession also took place at home. The eldest daughter had the honour to be Lucia. She and her siblings roused the family with their singing. Then the family gathered together with saffron buns at breakfast.

As the work traditions evolved in Sweden and both parents would go off to work dropping off children at centres and schools, there was a natural shift to leave the procession to the various institutions where people gather at the start of their day. Some modern families keep up the practice, but most often only for special guests or grandparents.
Read the rest of the article, first published last year, here. For more on the celebration of St. Lucia in Sweden, see this article by Kristian & Nora or this one by Ingegerd.

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