You have probably heard of Lucia; the Queen of Light who brightens the dark morning of December 13 in Sweden. Even if the 13th this year coincides with a Friday, “dark” refers only to the lack of light.
In short the Lucia tradition consists of a procession with a Lucia up front, followed by handmaidens (tärnor), star boys (stjärngossar), brownies and elves (pepparkaksgubbar och tomtenissar). All but the brownies and elves wear white gowns. Lucia wears a light crown/wreath whereas the handmaidens each carry a candle. Lights are normally battery operated. There is beautiful singing. Either it really is, or you are a parent. These Lucia processions can be enjoyed at every preschool and school, and sometimes even at workplaces. Most towns have an official Lucia procession visiting hospitals and elderly, malls and libraries. There is also a national broadcast.
Lucia behind the scenes
Being an “outsider” to this enchanting Swedish tradition, what you may not have heard of are the small battles leading up to this event.
- There is only supposed to be ONE Lucia in the procession. During the early years of school exceptions may be allowed but sooner or later the process of electing only ONE Lucia is introduced. How unfair. At least these days not only girls with long blond hair are chosen. Sweden wants to pride itself for diversity, but when it comes to boys being Lucia you can tell that traditions are not so easily rocked.
- Teachers struggle to persuade at least SOMEONE to be a star boy (stjärngosse). There are traditional songs to be sung about the star boy Staffan so at least one is a must. This category does not seem to be popular any more. Because of the cone shaped paper hat? The annoying elastic ribbon – making sure it stays during the procession – does not exactly help.
- Red ribbon or glitter for handmaidens (tärnor)? Lucia wears a red ribbon around her waist. Handmaidens, if anything around the waist, are meant to wear glitter – same as in their hair. Opinions seem to differ though, and the discussion is to be continued. Somehow official handmaidens tend to break the rules more often. You can also catch them wearing lingonberry sprigs instead of glitter. Not around the waist though.
- Batteries for handheld lights and wreath run out last minute. Does not matter how many times you checked and exchanged them for new ones. Murphy’s law.
- “Tärnljus” (the handheld lights of the handmaidens) resemble something out of Star Wars, and are hence used for light sword fights while kids are getting ready to enter the stage. How many lights will be broken this year? Easy to spot the guilty ones in the procession.
- Ironing long white gowns last minute. Not only must we find last year’s, try them on, buy new ones and hand the old ones down. Did you know how long it took me to iron the one I wore at 8 months of pregnancy? Yes, I was an expat at the time – you know it; homeland traditions tend to become very important once you are not actually living in your passport country. Actually, it was peer pressure. I don’t personally partake in Lucia processions in Sweden. It is for children and teens unless you are a member of a choir.
- Oh the decision of which of the children’s Lucia procession you need to opt out of since they tend to be held at the same time. This year all “our” teachers were being pro-active enough not to schedule the celebrations on the actual date itself. Since they all had the same idea it failed
- When all is settled (well, as good as it gets) you still miss most of it since there aren’t really any chances of clear visibility of the procession and your little ones. Grandparents, relatives and friends who have managed to arrive an hour earlier (since they were not on ironing or baking duty) make sure of that. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse or two though on one of the iphone screens held up in the air.
- Not to mention when real candles are used. Hair burning, candles needing to be relit – you get it.
What can I say; I love traditions. I am so glad that we have Lucia!
Now I just need to schedule the baking of the saffron buns I was appointed to do for 80 parents, grandparents and kids celebrating in one of my children’s classes. Right; the celebration which I will only attend for a short while – remember the double booking?
Want to learn more?
Another Lucia battle – comedian Robert Gustafsson
The Lucia song “Sankta Lucia”
More words to learn:
ett luciatåg – a Lucia procession
ett tåg – a train; a procession; a rope
ett luciafirande – a Lucia celebration
att fira – to celebrate; to lower
lusse – slang for Lucia
en lussebulle = en saffransbulle – a saffron bun
att lussa – to walk in a Lucia procession, singing and spreading the joy of Lucia to people