Santa Lucia, A Swedish Tradition of Lights

 Lucia concert at Storkyrkan. Photo: Julie Cid

Lucia concert at Storkyrkan. Photo: Julie Cid

I sat inside a beautiful church -- Storkyrkan, a cathedral in the heart of Stockholm. The lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet. Everyone knew what was about to take place. And while I didn’t understand a word of Swedish, I, too, knew I was in the middle of something special.

Suddenly the choir director gave a swift signal and a fleet of young women and men dressed in white started singing in unison. Their melody resonated through every corner of the church and vibrated against my skin. For the next 50 minutes I was enchanted.

On December 13th swedes young and old come together to celebrate Lucia’s Day. The charming celebration involves processions of lights all across the country. They happen at schools, churches, hospitals and offices. These processions feature a young woman or a girl dressed in a white gown with a red sash tied around her waist. She also wears a unique wreath crown with lit candles on her hair.

She’s the chosen one to represent Lucia and is accompanied by a group of maidens and star boys. The maidens also wear white gowns with a red sash, but instead of a crown with candles, they wear wreaths with berries and hold a single candle in their hands. The star boys wear the same white gown and red sash, as well as a large, pointy hat decorated with stars.

They sing carols together, bringing a warm and cozy feel to an otherwise cold and dark winter day.

The festival originated in Italy hundreds of years ago. Santa Lucia represented light in what was thought to be the darkest night of the year. In fact, the first Lucia celebration recorded in Sweden dates back to the 1700s, but became popular nationwide in the 1900s. Today it is one of the most celebrated traditions.

Saffron bun. Photo: Julie Cid.

Additional to the procession and singing, there’s also one particular sweet bread bun that accompanies the celebration. The Lussekatt, or saffron bun. This bun can be bought at coffee shops, outdoor markets and bakeries everywhere during the holiday season.

Storkyrkan
Address: 1 Storkyrkobrinken, 111 28 Stockholm
Website: www.svenskakyrkan.se