Friday, December 11, 2009

Lucia Day

Today marks the beginning of the Lucia weekend with culminates with Lucia Day on December 13th. In Sweden, the Lucia Day is celebrated in all parts of the country. It commemorates the life of Santa Lucia.

St. Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily around 283 and died in 303 AD. The myth is that her parents wanted her to marry a man against her will. She wanted to lead a more pious life, something along the lines of Mother Theresa. In protest against the marriage, she poked out her eyes, put them on a platter and gave them to the man. The legend is that her eyes were miraculously restored by God. I don't know if that part still holds. Perhaps, it was her carbon credits that restored her sight in the modern Swedish version.

It’s said that Saint Lucia blinded herself on the shortest, darkest day of the year, which is the Winter Solstice. Under the old Julian calendar, that day was December 13th. In Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries, Santa Lucia Day is seen as being the beginning of the Christmas season. It starts the countdown to Christmas-twelve days.

The tradition on this day is for the oldest girl in the family to dress in a white robe with a red sash and wear a crown of candles and lingonberry leaves (lingonberries are small red berries popular in Sweden). The other girls dress in white with silver crowns. The boys wear pointed white hats and carry candles. They’re called stj√§rngossar (star boys). Some kids dress up as tomtar, similar to gnomes. Traditionally, the procession will walk through the dark room and form a semi-circle with Lucia in the middle. They sing songs with a message of Lucia as a source of light and Christmas. The Lucia procession is often followed glug (mulled wine) , saffron buns and pepperkakor (gingerbread cookies, which I have eaten no less than 275,000 of) The city streets are adorned with small one's with wreaths of candles on their heads and young girls with tinsel in their hair as evidence that they have been part of a Lucia procession.

Observing the end to the shortening of the days is a very old tradition and has it's roots in pagan rituals. As do many Christmas time traditions, well predating Christianity. It is really a beautiful and simple tradition, albeit a little creepy. I am glad to have been able to partake of it for this one Christmas season.

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