Videos

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

Los Angeles: A visit to the Getty Villa

While many people have heard of Getty Images, the unrelated Getty Villa located in Los Angeles holds just as impressive a collection. This breathtaking mansion has 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan pieces dating back to 6,500 BC. But if art history isn’t your thing, the architecture of the villa itself is sure to make you want to stay a while. With fountains hidden in various corners of the grounds and a majestic garden, it’s easy to feel like you’re walking among the Gods in Mount Olympus.

This amazing gallery was built as part of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s philanthropic projects, which also include the Getty Museum, the Getty Foundation and the Getty Trust.

The villa is located on the Pacific Coastal Highway and it’s a great place to stop while on your way to Malibu. Admission is free and parking is available at $15 per vehicle.

A ride along the West Lake - Hangzhou, China

The sky is gray and a thick fog hangs well below the clouds, yet somehow this adds a touch of vibrancy to the place. This is Hangzhou, China. A city of over 9 million people. A small city by Chinese standards, but one with big traditions and rich with folklore.

I hopped on a traditional river boat and cruised the West Lake to hear the legend of the Leifeng Pagoda. The pagoda has become a tourist destination since it was rebuilt 4 years ago. But it’s tale dates back to 925 AD, when it was originally built.

Hangzhou, China

As the story goes, a white snake disguised herself as a beautiful woman and fell in love with a young man. They fell hard for each other and finally got married. However, because she wasn’t really human, their love was forbidden. So the gods trapped her under the Leifeng Pagoda for eternity, or until the pagoda crumbled to the ground. In 1924, that’s exactly what happened. The Pagoda collapsed and the old tale regained its fire.

Today thousands of people visit the new pagoda and take river cruises around it to admire its history.