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It’s December 13, which can mean only one thing: it’s Lucia in Sweden! We’ve collected four posts about the Lucia tradition. You’ll get some history, some music, and even some food. So check them out in the post below.
First, I have to call myself out for a bit of erasure. I often write about the stjärngossar (star boys) when I’m writing about Lucia. I dressed as one when I was little and today I think the hats are hilarious. But the fact remains, as one long-time reader wrote (hej Linn!), I have often failed to mention the tärnor (attendants). They usually follow behind Lucia in pairs as part of the luciatåg (Lucia procession), who are then followed by the stjärngossar and maybe even a red-clad gnome or a gingerbreadperson. Either way, the tärnor are an incredibly important part of any luciatåg.
Before we get to the four posts from the past, let’s talk a bit about Lucia this year. It’s been in the news a lot because of an ad campaign in which a young black boy dressed as Lucia. The ad was met with a lot of love. It was also met with a mix of racist and gendered backlash. That backlash was met, in turn, with a wonderful response using a specific hashtag: #jagärlucia to remind people that Lucia is not a static idea, not one stereotype, not one thing or person. Lucia is many things to many different people. Lucia, in the Swedish tradition, can be a white woman, a black woman, even a black boy. Historically, of course, Lucia was sometimes performed by a man. As far back as 1875. Traditions are always changing and as a folklorist who studies this sort of thing it’s always exciting to see how the tradition changes. How the tradition changes helps explain why it is important to the people who are practicing it. Because if a tradition doesn’t have any meaning that resonates with folks today, it will die out. Or it will change.
And so, without further ado, here are a few posts about Lucia:
The Lucia tradition involves a woman dressed in white with a crown of candles upon her head. Following her are several young boys, also dressed in white, with conical star covered hats on their heads, and several women dressed in, you guessed it, white. The woman appointed to be Lucia is usually carrying baked goods and coffee to serve. Known as Luciatågs (literally a Lucia train), these processions wander through offices and schools on December 13th spreading light and delicious fika materials.
On December 13th, Swedes will celebrate Saint Lucia, an Italian saint and martyr from the fourth century. Santa Lucia, as both the Saint and the day are known here in Sweden, will be venerated by a stereotypically blonde Swedish girl walking around with live candles on her head. She will be followed by girls in white (tärnor or attendants), boys (stjärngossar or star boys) dressed in white robes with conical hats on decorated with golden stars. To top it all off, this motley crew of innocence will form a parade, known as a Luciatåg (Lucia train) and walk around with baked goods, such as Lussekatter (Lucia buns).
So what’s the big deal with Saint Lucy’s celebration? You know the stuff you hear about Swedes parading with candles (lit candles, no less!) stuck to their heads? Well, St. Lucy’s is the day to do that.
The lady is one of the very few Catholic saints that are celebrated by the Lutheran church. Back in the olden days, her feast coincided with the longest, darkest day of the year, but then when the calendar changed from the unreformed Julian to what we have now, her day ended up on December 13th. The story of St. Lucy is rather gory and I’m not going to tell it here, but if you’re into that sort of stuff – check it out. What you do need to know is that in Latin, her name shares the root with “lux” meaning “light” and that’s the excuse for the candles in the hair that are being sported on St. Lucy’s day in Scandinavia.
For all of you who want to try making the Swedish Lussekatter this year, here is another recipe for you. It isn’t difficult at all, and very delicious.