By Astrid Popovici
There are few things darker than a Swedish winter. In Southern Sweden, in the depths of wintertime, the sun rises at 9 a.m. and sets at 3 p.m. In the midst of the dark and cold, Saint Lucia’s Day brings welcome light.
On December 13, Swedes honor the Christian martyr St. Lucia, the bringer of light. According to legend, she brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a candlelit wreath on her head to light the way.
Today, Swedes celebrate Lucia Day with candlelit singing processions, led by a crowned Lucia. We eat lussebullar (saffron buns) and pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies), sing beautiful Christmas songs, and dress in traditional clothing.
Young boys take part in the procession as stjärngossar (star boys), wearing white pointed hats and carrying wands with stars at the tips. Girls are tӓrnor, dressed up in white dresses and carrying candles. For each procession, one girl is chosen as the Lucia. She leads the way with a crown of candles and evergreen lingonberry branches.
The song “Sankta Lucia” is central to the holiday. In the final verse, anticipation and hope builds for the coming of dawn:
“Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!”
Saint Lucia’s Day is a transcendent tradition with an important message: in times of darkness, honor the light.