Every year on December 13, Sweden (and not only) celebrates St. Lucia, here called Luciadagen, Lussedagen or simply Lucia. It is one of the holidays that is very strongly associated with Sweden and this year we could celebrate it on the spot. Therefore, I could not refuse myself to prepare a video from that day. You will see it at the end of this post, but first I invite you to a description of the history and celebrations of Luciadagen in Sweden.
History of Luciadagen
Luciadagen is celebrated in memory of St. Lucia of Syracuse, whose story is as interesting as it is bloody. Lucia took a vow of chastity in her youth, but when her mother arranged a marriage with a young man of her choice, Lucia refused. The nervous candidate informed the authorities that Lucia was a Christian.
Lucy was arrested and tortured. When she refused to renounce her faith, she was forced into prostitution. She gouged out her eyes to disfigure herself and was sentenced to death by beheading as a result.
Legends say that a miracle happened and Lucia regained her sight. Moreover, it is said that initially they wanted to burn her at the stake, but the flames parted. Enraged torturers stuck a sword in her neck, which caused her death only after a co-religionist gave her last rites.
The beginning of a tradition
St. Lucia’s Day comes from Italy, but it came to Sweden from Germany. According to the old calendar, the longest night of the year fell on December 13 (this changed in 1753 after the calendar reform, when the winter solstice was moved to December 21-22). This day became a festival of light, although initially the associations with this night were negative – you could meet supernatural beings and talking animals during it. In the north of Sweden there are legends about Lucia – a woman from the mountains who leads the parade of supernatural beings.
Early celebrations consisted mainly of rich feasts, including meat ones. In 1820, the motif of Lucia dressed in white, carrying light, appears in the records. In the 19th century, the celebrations began to take the form of parades, initially consisting of three people, later the bridesmaids and the so-called star boys joined the entourage.
The Swedish text of the folk song sung on the occasion of Luciadagen was written in the 20th century (1920s). Below you can listen to a traditional melody that is sung during parades and concerts organized on this day in many Swedish cities.
St. Lucia’s Day – Celebrations in Sweden
Contemporary celebrations are primarily parades in many Swedish cities and concerts of traditional songs. Lucia arrives early in the morning, dressed in white robes, with a wreath of candles on her head, accompanied by her bridesmaids. These are children and youth, selected in advance for each procession in organized elections and plebiscites (depending on the size of the city and the scale of the procession).
One of the concerts, recorded in Uppsala, was posted this year by the Embassy of Sweden in Poland on its Facebook profile.
In addition to processions, parades and concerts, on this day it is a tradition to eat saffron buns of a specific shape – Lussekatter. This is accompanied by glögg, a Swedish variety of mulled wine, traditionally served with almonds and raisins at the bottom of the cup.
This year (2021) we had the opportunity to take part in the main Luciadagen parade in Malmö. The route started from the castle and ended at Gustav Adolfs Torg. Lucia and her bridesmaids rode in horse-drawn carriages, followed by smaller children dressed in white robes, with torches in their hands, and a small orchestra.
Despite the bad weather (it was rather cold and raining), the event was attended by many people. I personally felt deeply moved by being able to participate in such a beautiful and important tradition as a resident of Sweden.
You can watch the video from that day on my YouTube channel. You will see our way to Malmö, preparations for the procession, the beginning of the route and the end of the day.
Watch the video from 2021 celebrations
- Eriksson J., Melén B., Sverige på svenska, wyd. Folkuniversitetes Förlag, 2020.
- Swedish Cultural Society
Going to Sweden? Check out the guide to traveling by ferry on the Poland-Sweden route that I wrote.