On the 13th of December each year, something magical and wonderful happens here in Sweden. If like me, you work at a school, you will witness this spectacle without fail. If not, you will see it on the television; or if you happen to have children of your own, you will celebrate with them. Undoubtedly you will see a girl dressed in white with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Not only that but you will also see small boys dressed up as ‘stärngossar’ (star boys) and small girls dressed up as ‘tärnor’ (like the first girl, but without the candles. The boys carry a baton with a star on it. Makes sense now that they are called ‘star boys’.
The St. Lucia’s Day celebrations stem from stories that were told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
Apparently, St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story about her is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She wore candles on her head so her hands were free to carry things. Her fiancée denounced her for this; he set her on fire, although the flames refused to touch her. Finally, he stabbed her in the heart. The red sash represents the wound.
It is actually believed that St. Lucia appeared during a famine in Sweden during the Middle Ages carrying food to the farmers across lake Vännern.
A national Lucia is also chosen and other Lucias visit hospitals and old people’s homes, singing a song about Lucia and handing out ‘pepparkakor (ginger snap cookies).
In the old ‘Julian’ Calendar, the 13th of December was also the Winter Solstice and the pagan festival of lights was turned into St. Lucia’s Day. Sweden doesn’t see much sunshine during the winter months and in some parts, it doesn’t come up at all.
Wishing you a wonderful St. Lucia Day, if you celebrate it or not.