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?


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