Lucia: A Light in the Darkness

The darkest day of the year occurs in about a week, December 21st. On that day, where I am, the sunrise begins at a little before eight in the morning and the sun starts to set just before two in the afternoon, meaning that it’s only full daylight for about five hours between dawn and dusk. It’s pitch black by three thirty. So in this season, there’s no wonder we have a day dedicated to a saint who represents light, and the lighting of candles.

The Swedish tradition of Luciatågtåg meaning train and referring to the choir girls and boys that follow in the wake of Lucia – has little to do with the Saint Lucia of Sicily who was burned at the stake for her faith in 304 AD. The red ribbon now tied around Lucia’s waist is said to represent the blood that she spilled for her martyrdom, but other than this the Swedish tradition of Lucia is deeply rooted in pagan beliefs.

Up until the year 1753, when a new calendar was introduced into Sweden, the longest night of the year was considered to be the 13th of December. It was a night when supernatural forces were at work with even more energy than any other night of the year, and people did well to stay indoors and, preferably, keep awake. At this darkest time of the year the people would present offerings and prayers to the gods of light, imploring them to bring the light back to Earth again; the figure of a lady bearing candle light into dark rooms and churches may have its roots in this tradition.

I myself have always loved this part of the winter holidays. As a youngster, dressing up in a white nightgowny dress and getting to wear an electric Lucia crown was the highlight of the fall semester in school; this tradition of not giving the kids a choice of whether they want to dress up and sing in front of a huge group of people stops after third grade, but I was never forced into it. I’ll tell you why:

You stand in the lineup in a corridor, out of sight with all your friends, your teachers tell you to hush and you can hear the noise of the crowd that’s gathered to watch, which gives you butterflies in your stomach with anticipation. Then the crowd hushes. Everything grows very, very quiet. The anticipation builds and builds in the silence. Finally, your teacher raises her hands and gives the sign that it’s time to begin, and everyone starts to sing and the Luciatåg slowly moves forward until you walk into a completely dark space where you can see the heads of the crowd gathered together like one giant mass and all you can hear is yours and your friends’ singing and it’s magical because A) you’ve been practicing for weeks B) your parents are there in that mass somewhere C) the school term is just about over D) Christmas is just around the corner.


When I was little I also used to drag my sister out of bed in the morning, because the tradition also says that Lucia bring a tray of goodies to the sleeping houses, walking through the dark halls with her crown of light to chase away the shadows (sound a little eerie, but bear with me), and so I’d dress my baby sister up in her Lucia outfit and put on mine and get some gingerbread and lussebuns and milk (I was too young to make coffee) and bring it into mom and dad’s bedroom and wake them up with their own private Luciatåg before the sun was even up. They. Loved. It.

Of course, in high school, the singing sounded a bit more like this. And it was all around voluntary. Okay, I was never actually driven in a sleigh to bring a tray of goodies to the owners of a quaint house, but you know what I mean.

There, you’ve learned a little bit about a Swedish tradition that perhaps you weren’t aware of before and I’ve shared what this day is all about for me with you – it doesn’t get more productive than that. 🙂

Trevlig Lucia! – Have a nice Lucia! (which sounds a little weird, but is the closest translation.)






~ by mescribe on December 13, 2010.

4 Responses to “Lucia: A Light in the Darkness”

  1. What an amazing and beautiful tradition. It’s easy to sense the anticipation and excitement as you wait with your classmates in the corridor. To have those memories of your childhool and be able to share them is a special gift.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Such a lovely tradition that I never knew existed. Thank you for sharing!

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