Sunday, December 13, 2009

Swedish Yuletide Traditions

Santa Lucia Day

Today, December 13, is Santa Lucia Day, when light is celebrated in Sweden.

November and December are dark and depressing months over there and through the ages it has been essential to celebrate light in one form or another during these months of darkness.

When I was a child (see photo), the daughter in the family, wearing a crown of candles, would bring coffee and Lucia buns (lussekatter) to her parents in bed. And in those days, the candles were real! She and her court of younger siblings would sing the old song, Santa Lucia, in a translation that celebrates light coming to this dark season. I'm sure this tradition is still kept in Swedish homes. With battery operated candles, no doubt.

The celebrations continued in schools and there was a Lucia parade through the streets of Stockholm in the evening, ending in City Hall.

The original Santa Lucia was a Sicilian woman who became a saint and is always presented with light in some fashion or other in art and literature. How she came to represent the queen of light in far removed Sweden is an interesting story or speculation too long to tell here.

ADVENT (ad'vent) n. [< L. ad, to + venire, come]

In churches all over the world, Christ's coming is anticipated on the four Sundays of Advent. In Sweden, we light a candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. This is how it works: On the first Sunday in Advent, you light the first candle. On the second Sunday, you light both the first candle and the second candle, and so on. Today is the third Sunday in Advent and these are my candles in the dark hours of early morning.
As I did this, I remembered my family and how exciting it was for me to anticipate the holidays as a child: Opening a new window in the Advent calendar each day, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, the secrets, the whispers, the smells, and the wonderful time we used to have at Christmas.

I found this photo of my mother and father, circa 1939, wrapping Christmas presents.
Finally, I unwrapped my Straw Goat, a symbol of the goats that travel with Jultomten, the Swedish Santa, and help him deliver gifts on Christmas Eve. At least I think that's what they do. You may be surprised to learn that in Sweden, one of the homelands of the reindeer, Santa travels with goats. But that he does, according to folklore and tradition.
In my childhood home, this goat would sit underneath the Christmas tree. Since I'm expecting puppy Samson for Christmas, I put my goat up high where he'll be safe and can oversee the festivities.

This goat has been with me for many, many years and was looking rather raggedy. My friend Carol, who is very good with her hands, suggested I wrap him in some fine new red ribbons and this I did. I think he looks rather proud up there, don't you?


  1. What can I say about this post! I loved it so much. Seeing the picture of you with REAL candles lit upon your head. And seeing your parents. Had no idea about Santa and a goat. And your fashionable goat up on top of the cabinet looks fantastic. I so enjoy your blogs. Looking forward to reading more about Sweden and the traditions there.

  2. What interesting history and tradition!
    How ever did parents keep the wax from dripping on their children? I love that Swedish Santa travels with goats! Though, personally, I think a donkey or two should be there, as well. :-)
    Love your festive, beribboned goat!

  3. I remember my mom putting a wet hankerchief on my head to keep the wax from burning my hair.

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  5. Oh, glad to read about the wet handkerchief! This is such an interesting (educational) post. I'd much rather read it from you than go to an encyclopedia. And, your photos are just icing on the cake! And... we can click on them and enlarge them. Lovely!

  6. Åh vad härliga bilder, här hemma snöar det nu och det har varit lucia firande i varenda hörn. Vi firade Lucia idag på morgonen på min skola där jag arbetar.Alltid lika underbart och man ryser i kroppen. En fantastisk fin traditon.
    Vilka fina bilder på dig som liten iklädd en ett fint linne.Kul att se bild även på din mor och far. Var nu rädd och julbocken, den verkar stå mest säker uppe på skänken, Pascal var alltid rädd för julbocken, så min är fortfarande hel.
    Det är alltid lika roligt att läsa dina inlägg Inger!
    Må så gott/ Lucia från Stockholm ;)

  7. I loved reading about your childhood memories of the Holidays and seeing the family photos... How wonderful to have such fond memories of lovely times with your family. I think Samson looks like he is having a great time in the snow too but I sure wouldn't want to wake up to a sheet of ice on the bathroom window.. it looks soooo cold!

  8. The new format is stumping me trying to post a comment. I love the photos and stories of your childhood memories. The goat looks great with his new red ribbons,


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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