13th of December. St. Lucia, Sweden. They march down the street, young boys and girls clad in flowing white gowns, bearing stars on sticks. Tall paper cones stand on their heads. In the middle of this procession walks a girl, wearing “lights in her hair.” She is Lucia, and tonight she will dispel the dreary darkness—just like she has been doing for centuries.

So who is Lucia?


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Swedish legend says Lucia was Adam’s first wife, who consorted with the Devil. Another theory traces her origins to St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304.

The first recorded appearance of a white-clad Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally accepted in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in Stockholm began popularising it. The city proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927.

Today, young girls compete to play the role of Lucia – there is a national level competition and each town/village also chooses its own Lucia. On Lucia Day, the winner is announced, then driven around town in a horse-drawn vehicle to spread the festive cheer in factories, old-age homes and medical centres.

The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee.

lussekatter buns

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Incidentally, the “light” in Lucia’s hair is actually a crown of electric candles. In the olden times, the candles used to be real; today they are battery powered.