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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

SWEDISH TRADITIONS - LUCIA


Swedish Church in Marylebone (picture by Nick Weall)
Last weekend was a busy one for our family as we celebrated the Swedish Christmas tradition of Lucia. It is something that we enjoyed as Helena and I were growing up, and I'm now hoping to pass that on to my own two children. It really is one of my favourite celebrations - close enough to Christmas to link in with all that excitement but also just a beautiful ceremony with some wonderful songs.
St. Lucia is an Italian saint who has been "adopted" by the Swedes. Her tragic story goes thus - She gave her dowry to the poor but her fiancee denounced her for it and she was then blinded and burned. The flames however, didn't touch her so she was stabbed in the heart. It is said that she appeared during a famine in Sweden in the middle ages carrying food to the farmers across Lake Vännern. St. Lucia is associated with the idea of light. In the middle ages, December 13 fell on the shortest day of the year, and as you may know, in Sweden, the sun is not up very long in winter - in fact it doesn't come at all in some places. This holiday celebrates that the days will now get longer.
The girls in their traditional white dresses and candles

On the morning of December 13th, it is traditional in Swedish households for the oldest daughter to dress in a special long white dress with a red ribbon around the waist (the sash which represents her wound), white socks and no shoes. She puts a wreath made out of leaves on her head which has 6 - 8 candles on it (usually battery powered light bulbs instead of real candles these days). Her sisters also wear special long white dresses with shiny ribbons around their waists, tinsel around their heads and they carry a candle in their hands. Her brothers are called Star Boys and wear a special long white gown with a shiny sash, a pointed hat decorated with three stars and carry a baton with a star on it.

Saffron Bread
The custom is then for the children to serve coffee and special saffron bread to the rest of the family. They walk into the bedroom with the oldest daughter in the front, followed in size by the next tallest girl, down to the smallest and then the boys follow with the tallest in the front. As they bring in the Lucia bread and coffee the girls sing "Santa Lucia" (in Swedish, of course), and then the boys sing "Stefan was a Stable-boy." This procession is often replicated in schools and hospitals across the land also.
Each of the elements of the ceremony have special significance with the candles and yellow saffron bread representing light and the girls walking bare foot signifying charity. The saffron bread which you can see in the picture is traditionally eaten up until Christmas but not before Lucia. I would love to claim that I made the delicious saffron bread in the picture, but alas, I must confess to buying it at Totally Swedish!

Our weekend began by baking Swedish gingerbread on Saturday morning which was great fun for the kids - Helena, our Mother and I were on hand to help out, but as you can see Kristina and Freddie had everything under control!

Kristina helped by Mormor (Swedish for Grandma)
Kristina and Freddie have it all under control
Some traditional gingerbread stockings and some dinosaurs courtesy of Freddie!

Later, on Saturday afternoon we went along to the Swedish Church in Marylebone for the Lucia celebration. It was so atmospheric - beautiful singing and the girls dressed in their traditional white dresses looked truly serene - a wonderful experience for the whole family.

For a fun taste of Lucia in Sweden - take a look at this link too! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgxZS4mWSrw
(posted by Katarina)

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