Here in Sweden celebrating of the Saint Lucia started around 700 or 800 AD.
Exactly what happened and how it happened isn't clear but I'll tell you the most widespread
legends about it... :-)
Lucia was a Christian girl living in Syracuse, Italy, during the emperor Diocletian' hunt of
Christians in the beginning of the 3rd century AD. The legend says she was a beautiful woman
from a wealthy family.
Her mother got very sick, and Lucia prayed for her. When the mother miraculously recovered, Lucia
decided to live as a virgin and to give away all her belongings, including her future dowry. Her
fiancé got very angry, brought her to court and accused her of being a Christian.
Lucia was heartbroken and with a needle she tried to blind herself. But a miracle happened and
she could see, even though her eyes were destroyed. That is why she often is portrayed holding
two eyes on a tray.
The judge sentenced her to leave the city, but she refused. Even though a 1000 men, oxen and
trolls tried to drag her out, they couldn't move her. When that didn't work, they covered her in
tar and set fire to her. The flames twisted and turned in agony, but Lucia was not harmed - not
even her red dress. Finally her former fiancé stuck a sword in her neck which ended her life on
December 13th, A.D.304.
Later she was declared a saint by the church and given the name of Saint Lucia. She is still
honored in Sicily, where she was born. Christians there gather to celebrate her day with bonfires
and torchlight parades... Her remains are now located in a church in Venice, Italy. She is
wearing a red dress which is said to be the very same dress she wore the day she died...
In Swedish traditions boys too dress up in white gowns, but wear a pointy hat with stars
(see drawings). They are called star boys (stjärngosse) and originate from Saint Stefanos, or
'Staffan Stalledräng' as he is called here.
The legend says that Stefanos worked in king Herod's stables and gave the horses water when he
saw the star of Betlehem. He ran to Herod and told him that the new king of Jews was born.
Herod, who was eating, didn't believe him at first. He said: 'That is as likely as if this fried rooster
would come alive and call.' At that point the rooster flew up and called: "Christus natus est" (Christ is
Herod got very angry and frightened, and ordered Stefanos to be punished. In one version Stefanos
was stoned to death, and in the other version they poked out his eyes (but the legend says that he
could see anyway). In both versions he became a saint.
HOW DID LUCIA COME TO SWEDEN?
Why and how this tradition came to Sweden no one know for sure, but this is how it is said to
Lucia means 'light'. Until around year 1700, the night between the 12:th and the 13:th
was considered the longest of the year in Sweden. At this time, Sweden was a Catholic country and
because Lucia died on the 13:th, she became a symbol of light to the sun starved people of the
North. They imagined Lucia as a shining figure crowned by a radiant halo, or even with wings,
like an angel.
This long night was thought to be very dangerous. People believed that all kinds of ghosts and
spirits came to life, and even that the animals talked to eachother in their stables. In some
areas, people didn't even dare to go outside at all.
It became a sport to be the first one to get up in the morning, or at least to avoid being the
last one... The last person to get up was called 'lussegubben'. It was popular to dress
up in scary and funny costumes, and the funniest of them all was when the males dressed up like
Since they got up early and the night was long, they liked to eat a lot. Some even ate three
breakfasts... The breakfast usually consisted of coffee, 'lussekatter' (Lucia cats, or
Saffron buns as they are also called. See recipe below.) and gingerbread.
Around the year 750 these customs spread from the farmers in Västergötland (a province
in the south part of Sweden) to the universities in the cities. The students dressed up in
night-gowns and went to their teacher's houses bringing coffee and 'lussekatter' and sang
The first public Lucia-procession was arranged by a Swedish newspaper, Stockholms Dagblad, in
1927. After that, the modern Lucia celebrations started spreading rapidly around the country,
and also to most other parts of the world where there are Swedes, and to the Swedish
speaking parts of Finland.
Lucia wears a white gown, a red ribbon around her waist and a crown of greens (often leaves of
lingonberry) on her head. Five, seven, or even nine white candles are set into her crown. When
children dress as Lucia, they use a crown with battery lights instead. :-)
Every year a Lucia of Sweden is elected. One of her tasks is to visit Syracuse and take part in
their annual religious procession. Together with her 'tärnor' (girls dressed like
the brownhaired girl above) and 'stjärngossar' (star boys - also seen
above) she also does a lot of charity work during the year, for example sing at homes for elderly
people, and collect money for the poor all over the world.
Lucia Day is still celebrated on December the 13:th. All over Sweden children get up early, dress
up like in my drawing, and surprise their parents in bed with coffee, 'lussekatter' and
gingerbread on a tray. This also takes place in schools, companies, hospitals, well
almost everywhere... On top of that, most towns elect their own Lucia.
It has become tradition to surprise the Nobel Prize winners early in the morning when they are
still in bed at their hotel, with a singing Lucia procession. One year though, a winner got
really angry and upset, so since then they all get to know about it in advance... :-)
RECIPE FOR 'LUSSEKATTER' (LUCIA BUNS):
50 g (preferable fresh) yeast
1 g saffron
500 mL milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
200 g margarine
6 cups flour
+ additional flour for kneading
3 Tablespoons milk
Set the oven to 225 degrees Celcius (450 degrees Farenheit). Melt the butter and mix with the
milk. Put the yeast in a bowl and pour over the butter-milk (make sure it's 37 C (98 degrees
Farenheit). Add salt and sugar and then the remaining ingredients. Leave the dough for at least
30 minutes. Shape the buns like the ones I have drawn, tuck in the ends, and put a raisin in each
end. Place the buns on a cookie sheet that has been buttered or covered in parchment paper.
Cover with a clean cloth and let rise again until double in size, about 30 minutes. Make the
glaze by beating one egg with 3 Tablespoons milk. Brush the tops of the buns with the glaze just
prior to baking. Put them in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a
rack. Enjoy! :-)