It’s now the middle of December, the night has become more persistent and day light has dwindled significantly. With only 6-7 hours of sunlight per day, it’s a battle to wake up in the morning and stay up during the day. But, to cope with this phenomenon, the Swedes have adapted a celebration that brights light to their long, dark days.
December 13th is said to be the day with the longest night. It may sound terrible to some, but the good news is that night will begin to slowly retreat and day light will soon return. On this special day, the Swedes celebrate Lucia (or Saint Lucy) who’s named the “bearer of light”. At this time of year, children and young adults can be spotted walking around the cities of Sweden. They’re clothed in white dresses, red ribbon tied around their waists, and candles in hand, singing while they make their procession through town. In this group of dressed children and young adults, there would be a single girl with lighted candles crowned on her head. This would be the girl bearing the name “Lucia”. Each year a different girl would be selected to bear this name to symbolize Saint Lucy and bear the light on this dark day.
While its originated time is unknown, this tradition goes back many years, with the first recorded event in 1764. It’s believed that because December 13th is the longest day, many ominous and perhaps ill-spirited events will happen during this night. Some also believe that Hel — a Norse goddess — appears on this day and walk about during the night. It’s said that she slays every male she encounters during the night so the men would often stay indoor until morning comes. In short, the men would stay indoors while the women would go out singing from door to door with candlelights in their hands. There’s probably more to the story than this but I still think it’s an interesting tradition with a rather dark origin. At this point, with all the darkness that’s encompassing Sweden, I feel great appreciation for any celebration that brights light into cold nights.
The traditional Lucia song:
The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
Lyrics and historical information from: https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/