saint lucia's day: post scriptum. swedish christmas #2
For Swedes Saint Lucia's Day is the beginning of Christmas season. As a northern nation, they deal with darkness in winter for much longer time than other parts of Europe. About the Lucia herself and how tradition of her came to Scandinavia you can read here, and today let's take a look how the celebration looks today, even in the furthest part of the world. Food and music waits! I will intermingle the text with some pictures from Lund during the Christmas time.
In the previous text I mentioned that Swedes organise contests for Lucia, both on the local and the national level. The tradition was for the oldest girl in the family to impersonate Lucia, but today it doesn't have to be the case. For one event one Lucia is chosen, but there are many processions, held in schools or arranged by the town councils, so many girls can have their chance. Lucia stands out by wearing a white dress (symbol for purity and virginity or as Christian's baptismal robe), red sash around her waist (symbol for the blood of the martyrdom), crown made of lingonberry leaves (it is the most popular berry in Sweden, if you have ever eaten Swedish meatballs you know why), decorated with candles (or just Christmas lights; security reasons take away most of the fun, as usual). The candles make the biggest difference, as all the others participants wear white clothes as well. Girls can have either silver crowns or those made of lingonberry leaves, but with no candles in it. Boys, on the other hand, have silver pointy hats on their heads and wands with stars on them - stjärngossar, star boys. They have a song or two of their own. Usually it is Staffan Stalledräng, which tells the story about Saint Stephan, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death. It is not unusual to bear candles by them attendees. You can also spot other kids, dressed as tomtar, gnomes, carrying lanterns or gingerbread men.
Below you can listen to one of the traditional songs performed during Saint Lucia's Day (sorry for the quality).
On the day of Saint Lucia there are two essentials to be consumed. The baking is especially connected to Lucia and it's called Lussekatter. They are special Lucia buns made with saffron. They are accompanied by glögg, hot spiced wine. The buns are the tastiest on the day of their baking, but they can be frozen and still taste fine later. Their name in Polish is "the eyes of Saint Lucia" and they form in general refers to one of the variations of the legend about Lucia, in which the girl gouged her eyes out. So yummy to eat something resembling them, right?
If you are in Sicily on Saint Lucia's Day, you might eat their traditional dish. Sicilians eat whole grains instead of bread on December 13th as a legend holds that a local famine ended on the day of Lucia's feast, when ship loaded with grain entered the harbour. It is not as horrible as it sounds, actually grains can be pretty tasty (okay, it depends on a person), especially when added ricotta, honey and some berries. It might sound familiar to one of Polish traditional Christmas dishes, but mostly due to the name (Italian cuccia and Polish kutia) and the presence of the wheat grains.
Lucia all over the world
Let's start with the country of Lucia's origin. Beside Sicillian's cuccia in Firuli Lucia is the one bringing the gifts to good kids and coal to bad ones the night between December 12th and 13th. Lucia arrives in the company of donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Sound like Santa Claus? Make it more real: while in the US kids would leave cookies for Santa, in Italy children prepare coffee for Lucia, carrot for the donkey and glass of wine for Castaldo (with coffee onboard, any more questions why this tradition could settle so well in Sweden?). And as in American movies kiddies usually have some amazing stories when they peak while Santa sneaks, in Italy Lucia will throw ashes in their eyes for trying to watch her delivering gifts. And where is Italy now and where is the US in the social development, huh? (I hope that you cannot tell who am I offending now, I AM EVEN OFFENDING ANYONE).
In Dalmatia and Hungary it is common to plant wheat grains that will grow few centimetres on Christmas, representing the Nativity. In the Philippines' Bicol Region people hold a procession every morning nine days leading up to Saint Lucia's Day. People there perform a hymn to the saint, known as the Gozos, as well as Spanish version of Ave Maria, which are chanted during the dawn procession. Saint Lucia is also commemorated in the Faroe Islands.
There is a tiny Caribbean island named after Saint Lucia. For its inhabitants December 13th is the National Holiday. The night before The National Festival of Lights and Renewal is taking place as well as a competition between artisans for the best lantern. No one can miss the fireworks display. Saint Lucia along with Saint Benedict the Moor are patrons of Mucichies in Venezuela and festivities in the honour are held in December.
In Poland especially strong traditions connected to Saint Lucia could be found along highlanders. They say that her day was the frontier period, when the east gains light during the day and the west is still loosing it until December 21st, so Saint Lucia's Day favours magic and evil powers. This is why it was needed to incense the house and the farmstead, special pies with herbs were baked, which then were served to the animals, so witches and sorcerers could not harm them. There is also a custom to predict the weather for the following year. Each of 12 days remaining between Saint Lucia's Day and Christmas were representing the weather for each of 12 months of the following year.
To conclude this Polish passage and the whole text I attach a link to a song called „Opowieść zimowa” or „The winter tale” by a band Armia / Army, which text is inspired by Polish traditions on Saint Lucia's day.
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