Luciatåg: Saint Lucy’s day (Sweden)

Location: all around Sweden, processions usually organized by cities, schools, universities etc. (but in general is Saint Lucy’s day celebrated to a certain extent by other European countries as well).

Date: the 13th of December

Common names: Luciatåg (Sweden), Lussinatt (Norway), Luciadag (Denmark and Finland), Luutsinapäev (Estonia), Saint Lucy’s day, Lucia Day (English speaking countries).

Description:

The Lucia tradition is as integral to Swedish culture as midsummer and crayfish parties. Immensely atmospheric, this 400-year-old custom brings peaceful joy each year on 13 December – and it’s spreading across the world.
(introductory citation taken from this article).

Although St. Lucy’s Day is not an official holiday in Sweden, it is a very popular occasion in this region. The highly atmospheric celebrations are play out on national TV and in kindergartens, schools, care homes, churches and offices across the country. In brief, the event consist mainly of singing line-up of candle-carrying characters dressed (mostly) in white gowns. St. Lucy, wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, walks at the head of the procession. The modern-day event evolved from historic custom and nowadays consists also of typical christmassy sweets and treats. Because the feast day of this saint coincides with period of the shortest day(s) of the year, it is widely celebrated as a festival of light and St. Lucy is seen as the bearer of it.

Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucy – the leader of the procession –  every year. Schools elect a Lucy and her maids among the students and a national Lucy is elected on national television from regional winners. The regional Lucies will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingernut cookies.
Boys take part in the procession as well, playing different roles associated with Christmas: some dressed in white similar to Lucy, but with a cone-shaped hat decorated with golden stars (therefore they are called stjärngossar, meaning “star boys”). Others can be dressed as tomtenissar (Santa’s elves) and carry lanterns, or as gingerbread men resembling the famous cookies.

Singing is significant part of the celebrations, usually done by choir and/or the procession itself. Visitors and viewers should not be suprised though, if the local people join in with the choir – most Swedes know the main Lucia song, “Sankta Lucia”, off by heart.

Many Swedes would find it sacrilege to eat a Lussekatt (sweet bun) at any other time than Lucia and the weeks leading up to Christmas.

As well as being the bearer of light, Lucia’s offering of treats is just as key. She has been immortalised carrying a tray of fika by several iconic Swedish artists, such as Carl Larsson (see the painting here). The typical sweets are pepparkakor (gingernut cookies) and lussekatt (a special baked bun, called “St. Lucy Bun”, which is almost as classic and famous as the cinnamon bun), typical drink is glögg (mulled wine) served with almonds and raisins.

Links:

Main article and the base of this text
More info and video
The Legend of Saint Lucy
The Festival and its history at Gustavus Adolphus Collage (with the photo-book of the “St. Lucias” from the year 1941)