Glad Lucia Dag! On December 13 we celebrate St. Lucia Day with saffron buns. Although Advent begins prior to St. Lucia Day, Lucia is a tangible kick off to the coming holiday season. At dawn on December 13, traditional Swedish families awake to the procession of St. Lucia complete with songs and children dressed as St. Lucia and her court. Lucia, the martyred Saint of Light, provides light during the dark season, and saffron buns are the traditional breakfast served with hot coffee and other baked goods.
Lucia is often thought to hail from Sicily, but she is now a Swedish icon. Is she a remnant of Catholic rule? A Värmland folktale asserts that during a severe famine Lucia appeared and distributed pork, beer, and wine to the starving citizens. Lucia became a welcome symbol of light and salvation.
December 13 was once referred to as the night of the trolls. As with so many folk traditions that are replaced with Christian substitutes, Lucia and the trolls are now symbolically morphed. Lucia’s association with the devil stems from that earlier belief, and many believed she was the leader of the trolls. Her name being the female equivalent of Lucifer did not help her reputation. It wasn’t until the 1800s that Lucia became the saint of light and goodness, and it wasn’t until 1927 that her holiday took off as a national celebration when Stockholms-Tidningen, a now defunct newspaper, began an effort to increase Christmas shopping. Their marketing campaign popularized Lucia with parades and processionals headed by a white clad Lucia.
Today, every home, school, community, and hospital hosts a Lucia event, sometimes with competitions among young girls who compete to be selected as Saint Lucia. The late Swedish invention of St. Lucia celebrations is likely the reason that so few Minnesotans of Swedish descent incorporated Lucia into their holidays until recently.