Early in the morning on 13 December, she glides into schools, nurseries and workplaces: Lucia - dressed in white, singing sweetly and heading the procession. The feast of St Lucia is one of the traditions dearest to the heart of most Swedes and one which visiting Nobel Prize Laureates also get to experience.
Lucia celebrations in the Council building in Brussels, 4 December.
Next to the Midsummer festivities, the feast of St Lucia is one of the most important traditions in Swedish culture. It has both pagan and Christian roots and a clear connection to the way of life in the old peasant society, where darkness and light, cold and warmth played an important role.
The feast of St Lucia then…
Before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century, the night before Lucia was the longest night of the year, and according to folklore, it was a night when supernatural beings were afoot and you stayed awake if you knew what was good for you. This night of darkness also marked the start of Christmas. As the major part of the Christmas preparations had already been finished, the night was spent eating lots of food before the Christmas fast began and young people often went out to the neighbouring farms, singing and asking for food and aquavit.
… and now
In this day and age, Lucia still marks the beginning of Christmas. Lucia also brings the much longed-for light. Lucia, dressed in white with a crown of candles in her hair and her procession of maids, star boys and brownies singing their way through bedrooms, schools, hospitals and sheltered housing in the early hours of the morning. Nowadays it is still common for young people to wait up to see Lucia in.
There is more to this day than just songs, there are sweet foods in the form of gingerbread biscuits and saffron buns to be enjoyed with coffee or hot mulled wine (glögg). This tradition grew strong in the 19th century and nowadays it is so firmly rooted in the cultural identity that expatriate Swedes often establish the tradition outside Sweden too.
Exotic experience for Nobel Prize Laureates
But for those unfamiliar with Swedish Lucia traditions, they may be seen as rather odd. The Grand Hôtel in Stockholm, which has hosted the Nobel Prize Laureates during the Nobel week since 1901, traditionally treat their guests to Lucia celebrations. One Nobel Prize Laureate who woke up surrounded by singing girls dressed in white and with candles in their hair, thought for a moment that he had died and gone to heaven. It is said that in 1997, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Dario Fo was so excited that he danced around and sang a duet with Lucia.