Fiat lux! Let there be light!
The 13th of December is a very special day in Sweden. Many people have told me that light – and especially candles – play a very important role here. During the cold and dark winter months, your home has to be cosy. And what could be cosier than sitting on the sofa, drinking a hot chocolate while the candles cast their yellowish light on the walls of the room? Not much, I suspect.
On the 13th of December, Swedes (and others) celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day (Luciadagen), when Lucia brings light to the dark and cold. Before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Sweden (in 1752), Lucia Day was the shortest day of the year for well over a century. The Lucia festival is ultimately in the tradition of older solstice celebrations.
The careful reader might get suspicious here: Isn’t the shortest day of the year (on the Northern hemisphere) on the 21st of December? You’re right, it is, but in the Gregorian calendar that we use nowadays. Until the 18th century, the Julian calendar was in place, and the winter solstice fell on the 13th of December (or at least in the 14th century).
However, the choice of 13 December as Saint Lucia’s Day predates this eight-day error of the fourteenth-century in the Julian calendar. This date probably goes back to the earliest records of the life of Lucia of Syracuse in the 6th and 7th centuries. The date is used in this way throughout Europe, and while the world changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar system – giving it a new date for the winter solstice – St Lucia’s Day was kept on the 13rd of December and not moved to the 21st of December.
But what do you do on this day?
- Watch the Lucia concert in a church (or on television)
Especially during a pandemic, many traditions have suffered or been changed to be compatible with the online world. Usually, celebrations begin in the morning in the family and continue in kindergartens, schools and workplaces. The celebrations are marked by wearing white robes, eating traditional pastries and singing. People gather and watch children walking in a Luciatåg, singing and carrying candles (usually battery-operated) on their heads.
This year, all these on-site festivities had to be cancelled and were replaced by online concerts. You can watch one of them on sweden.se (see reference below).
2. Bake and eat lussekatter (yummy!)
Lussekatter – saffron buns – are a traditional pastry in Sweden and it’s a real shame I’d never had these delicious things before I moved here. Trust me, you will absolutely love them! They can come in different shapes, but the most traditional is probably the “mirrored S”. You can get very creative in shaping saffron buns, but you have to be careful not to get killed by the judging look of a Swede. I even shaped a Swiss butter plait (and yes, I got some weird looks for that – sorry, to all Swedes!). I’ve also linked the sweden.se article on Swedish pastries below, where you can find a recipe for these divine treats. Try it out yourself!
3. Enjoy the light (not only on Lucia-Day tbh)
Enjoying the light is a very important thing here. Especially now, when the days are very short and – according to the Swedish weather forecast – parts of Sweden may not get a single hour of sunshine in December, catching as much light as possible is a must! Even if it’s cold or grey and windy, you have to get outside and enjoy the daylight. It takes a lot of convincing to go outside, but I’ve learned to appreciate it even when the Sun isn’t shining at all.
In the evening, or as soon as it gets dark – currently around 3 or 4 o’clock – you can snuggle up in a cosy blanket, light a few candles and enjoy the warmth and light.
So that’s it for today and possibly for a few days – I promise not to take another few months (wow, that sounds really, really bad, I’m really sorry) to come up with another post. Next on my to-do list is to enjoy Christmas in Ystad – and yes, I do plan to pursue a few Wallander must-sees there. I’ll tell you about it after Christmas!
Well, what’s left to say for today: Thank you for putting up with me and not messaging me when the next post is coming. A lot has happened since I moved to Sweden and I am still waiting for – and also preparing – some things to share with you. Also research-related. In any case, stay tuned!
I wish you all the best and the brightest for the upcoming holiday season and hope that you can spend these days with your loved ones. Please take care of yourself and others, stay safe and healthy, and recharge your batteries. 2020 was a mess, but let’s hope for a better 2021. Talk to you soon!