A procession of girls carrying candles and dressed in white gowns, one girl wearing a red sash with her white gown (sometimes all of them do) and a light crown on her head - exactly, today is Saint Lucy's Day.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't aware where this tradition has come from, and to be honest, I always thought this was an exclusively Swedish feast because whenever I have read or heard about it, it always took place in Sweden.
Although other countries have their own traditions on this day, like Italy where Lucia came from, but also Germany, Croatia, and more, the Swedish tradition is probably most widely known. Actually it is celebrated in other Scandinavian countries as well. Lucy is called Lucia there.
Who was Saint Lucy?
Lucia of Syracuse (Sicily) was a Christian martyr in the late 3rd century. The (shortened) story goes that she dedicated her life to Christ, but her mother who was sick didn't know that and arranged a marriage for her. After a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Agatha, the mother recovered and accepted her daughter's wish. They distributed Lucia's inheritance among the poor and her betrothed promptly denounced her to the Governor who ordered to have her taken to a brothel.
"St. Lucia in front of the judges" from the St. Lucy Altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto
Not even a team of oxen and 1,000 men could move her, however, and neither the torture with hot oil nor the attempt to burn her were successful. She finally died through a sword that was thrust into her throat, but only after a priest gave her sacramental bread.
One story about Lucia is that she wore a wreath with candles on her head, so she could hold the food she brought to other early Christians hiding in the catacombs - which brings us back to her feast.
In fact the name Lucia comes from the Latin word "lux" which means light.
The custom of celebrating Saint Lucy's Day was first recorded in West Sweden in the 18th century, but only at the end of the 19th century, thanks to a Stockholm museum, it started spreading, and it became really popular after a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucy in 1927.
It also spreaded to other Scandinavian countries where there were Swedish people and was then adopted by the other inhabitants as well.
By the way, there are not only girls involved in the celebration. Boys can be star boys in white robes with pointy star-embellished hats, gingerbread men, or even Christmas elves.
I read that nowadays no real candles are used anymore for reasons of safety, but in a documentary I've seen the Lucia wear real candles. Underneath her crown she wore a cloth over her hair and both the cloth and hair had to be wet. The candles were "Kanalljus", special candles manufactured with four channels into which the excess stearin can flow which also helps to make the candle burn more calmly and regularly, made for the use in drafty churches to prevent wax stains and more. In case you are curious, it didn't work perfectly for her, she still got stearin drops in her hair.
Another big part of the fest is food of course, for example "lussekatter" meaning Lucia cats (check the link for a recipe on "Visit Sweden"). These are saffron buns shaped into the letter S which reminds of a curled up cat.
If I could bake, I would have tried to make them for you, but yeast and I get along as badly as glue and I.
Send me some if you make them! :-D