The Swedish winter is long and dark. According to the old Julian calendar (used in Sweden up to 1753), 13 December is the darkest day of the year, so what more appropriate than to lift up the spirits by having a festival of light?
St Lucia is all about light – the centrepiece being a young girl dressed in white with a crown of candles, escorted by ‘star boys’ (stjärngossar) in pointed hats.
We who live on the west side of the North Sea might wonder how it is that the well-known strains of Santa Lucia (an Italian folk song surely?) permeate this very Swedish festival. The answer lies in legend – one version being that St Birgitta, a Swedish saint, went to Rome seeking approval for the establishment of her order of nuns at Vadstena and sent home the very Italian story about how Lucia and her wealthy mother (who had been miraculously healed from sickness) went about by candlelight ministering to the poor. Lucia later suffered martyrdom, to which there is testament in an inscription found in Syracuse, Sicily.
It is easy to see how in the season of Advent the symbolism of this festival points to the one who is to come, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. And so, very colourful and moving celebrations are held in churches throughout Sweden, bringing light when the darkness is at its most intense.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity for a ‘taste of Lucia’ in concerts in the Cathedral and at Deddington by the Youth Choir of the Sofia Church, Jönköping, which is Deddington’s link in Växjö Diocese. It was stunning – sorry if you missed it!
Click on the following items for a sample of their music:
And here is an English variation (by Tony Dickinson) on the St Lucia theme song!
For more about the Swedish Lucia Festival, simply search the web!