Hey guys! As I said, we stay in Scandinavia for the remaining guest posts and today's post is dedicated to Sweden. The 13th of December is Lucia day there and I'm so glad to have Cecilia on the blog today to tell you all about it!
Christmas as an Ex-pat – Lucia!
Hi everyone, I’m Cecilia and normally you will find me writing about random stuff over at Cecilia in the rain, but for today I am happy to post for Van on the topic of Christmas as an expat.
Trust me when I say that there is a lot of things I could write about Christmas as an expat, the differences between the holidays in the UK and Scandinavia, food, how we celebrate on Christmas eve, how my first Christmas over here went etc. etc. Christmas is my favourite holiday, so I thought it would be hard to choose what to write about! Except it isn’t, because you are reading this on the 13th of December, so it was only really one thing I would be writing about today. The Swedish tradition of Lucia!
Lucia day is celebrated in Sweden on the 13th December every year, commemorating Saint Lucia. Now, if I remember my story as was told to me, Lucia was a girl who lived in Italy and got killed when she was smuggling food and gifts to outlaws and the poor. There is definitely a lot more to her story, but for now, let’s go with what I know!
Legend has it that in order to get to the people she was seeing, she had to navigate through a number of caves, and with her hands full, she ended up putting candles on her head in order to see where she was going. I think for the Swedish celebration of Lucia, this is key, because the celebration falls just before winter solstice, so she is known as the “bringer of light” or rather the promise that lighter days are coming. (I think this celebration is actually a perfect example of having historically added religious celebrations to coincide with pagan traditions in order to establish the new religion, but that is just me) She was also apparently killed by a sword to the stomach, and so therefore the Swedish Lucia is a girl with a crown of candles and a red ribbon round her waist.
So, that is a bit about the background, but how is this celebrated in Sweden? Well, traditionally the day would start with the oldest daughter in the family dressing up as Lucia, and waking the rest of the family up in the morning by singing to them and bringing delicious cakes and coffee. Who doesn’t like breakfast in bed on one of the darkest mornings of the year?? Well I can tell you I never played along with this when I lived at home, and frankly I am not sure my singing voice would have been something to wake up to, and I think this is very much the case in most homes in Sweden these days!
Instead the day is marked in other ways, usually the schools or kindergartens have their own Lucia marches or concerts for the parents, where the kids get to dress up as Lucia, star boys, santas or whichever they like. It used to be a bit of a popularity contest whereas only one Lucia was allowed, and it was voted on who had the honour of being Lucia that year (i.e a popularity contest) however this is done less and less these days I think, and you usually have more than one Lucia.
What I find quite cute though, is that some papers will have contests for readers to send in pictures of their cats, and the public get to vote on their favourite who is crowned as that years Lussekatt That's from the popular saffron buns that are also known as "lussekatter" which translates directly to "Lucia-cat" The proceeds usually go to various animal charities - good cause!
The Swedish national television will usually have their annual Lucia concert on tv, with the usual Lucia congregation, and the singing of traditional and new Christmas songs. This is one for the early birds as they show it around 6am in the morning! I used to love getting up super early, putting on a nice cup of tea, bringing out the gingersnaps and Saffron-buns and slowly wake myself up to the tune of Christmas music. It was just that feeling of knowing that not only were we about to get more daylight soon, but also, Christmas was just around the corner! Lucia is just one of the many things that means Christmas to me!
And this brings me to the food - because of course you can't have a proper traditional celebration without food to go with it, am I right? Actually, A couple of years ago Ruby made these Saffron buns on the Great British Bake-off and hence committed the cardinal sin of making saffron buns in the HEIGHT OF SUMMER! (I shouted as I gesticulated angrily towards the tv.) These babies are delicious sweet buns with one particular ingredients added - Saffron. So they are not the cheapest of things, and a lot of people use turmeric instead of saffron to get that yellow look to them, but this is of course cheating, because the whole point is to get the taste of saffron into the dough. Then they are shaped into various shapes depending on what you fancy (the "S" above is the one I am the most used to) and put a couple of raisins in for good measure. Best enjoyed with a hot mug of glögg - that is mulled wine to you foreigners!
Having lived in the UK for the last 12 years, Lucia is definitely one of the traditions that is the hardest to do anything with, because, trying to explain it to people you are like "uh, well a girl dresses up in white with candles in her hair and then brings coffee and cake to your bed.." and people just look at you a bit weird. They dont seem to complain when I bring them homebaked goods though, because if anything I will not miss on the opportunity to bake saffron buns... at the correct time of the year Ruby!
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What do you think of the Lucia festivities? Do you belong to those who don't get it or would you want to experience this tradition in person? (I definitely belong to the latter category!)