December 13 in Sweden is known as Lucia, which is in English St. Lucy’s Day. In Italy it’s Saint Lucia. We celebrate this day quite heavily in Sweden, though I couldn’t quite tell you why, since Saint Lucia was an Italian saint and really has no relation to Sweden. Our holiday seems to be a combination of Winter Solstice, Saint Lucia and some old superstitions.
The most basic part of it, is probably the need to bring light into the darkness – since this time of year is quite dark in Sweden, with few hours of daylight. Lucia is a woman wearing a wreath with candles, and she is followed by maidens holding a single candle in their hands. These days there are also men/boys in the group.
Originally it was just a procession of the Lucia and her maidens and men, all dressed in a white, flowing dress. These days, you will probably see little gingerbread people, Santa’s helpers and possibly other things too. It’s tradition to hold a Lucia train in schools, and most towns have an official vote on the town’s Lucia nominations. Each school with have their own little trains with all of the kids – but then you have the official one which usually visits all of the nursery homes and possibly some of the bigger companies.
In my home town there was then a big scene built in the town square and in the evening of Lucia everyone would gather there, to see Lucia and her followers arriving. There’s always singing, I think I forgot to mention. Some are regular Christmas songs, but there a few that are specific to the holiday.
The Lucia celebration in a special one. If you’re in the audience at a school, you may be sitting in the auditorium with the lights out, leaving the room dark. Then you will hear the singing from a distance, growing louder and louder – and then you see the light coming closer. As the procession, with Lucia at the front, comes into the room – it’s a special feeling. The beautiful singing, the lights… It’s difficult to explain – I think you’d have to experience it.
Then of course there’s the traditional fare: luciabuns and gingerbread cookies. Some people will drink mulled wine (glögg in Swedish), while the younger generation (or people like myself who don’t like glögg) will drink a special soft drink available at Christmas.
Actually, ignore everything I’ve just written. There’s a YouTube video that explains it all much better!