Dec 16, 2009

"What Is...?" Wednesday

The Festival of Santa Lucia
(in loving memory of my grandparents)

The festival of Santa Lucia begins before dawn, on the thirteenth of December, which under the old Julian calendar (used in Sweden before 1753) was Christmas Day and the longest night of the year. Throughout Sweden, the eldest daughter in each household comes to her sleeping parents, dressed in a long white gown tied with a red sash, and wearing a crown of lingonberry leaves in which are set seven lighted candies. In her hands she carries a tray of steaming hot coffee and "Lussekattor" (Lucia Runs). The procession includes her sisters and brothers also dressed in white, holding lighted candles, and singing of the light and joy of Christmas.

The sisters of the Lucia Bride wear a wreath of tinsel in their hair and a piece tied around their waist, while the boys have tall pointed caps sprinkled with stars. Awakened by the lights and the singing, the parents arise and eat the breakfast served, thus ushering in the Christmas season.

Scandinavian tradition holds that in Värmland, Sweden, a white-clad maiden, wearing a crown of burning candies, brought food to the starving villagers on the shores of Lake Vänern. No one knows how long ago the tradition began, but it was so far back that the festival of Santa Lucia was marked by a notch on the primitive "primstav" (calendar stick), the precursor of the calendar. It later became customary in western Sweden to finish the threshing by Lucia Day so as to begin the cooking and baking for the long Christmas festivities.

 From its beginnings in Värmland, the customs in honor of Santa Lucia have spread throughout Sweden, and more recently to the rest of Scandinavia. Today, the festival is celebrated in schools, hospitals, businesses, and towns; each of which has its own Lucia Bride and festivities to mark the beginning of Christmas.

Since 1956, the Scandinavian Club of Portland (Oregon) has preserved the beauty of this ancient tradition with a festival celebrating the coming of Santa Lucia preceding the Christmas holidays. In 1960, the club collaborated with Lloyd Center, providing a spectacular setting on their ice pavilion for the coronation of the Lucia Bride each year. 

In the tradition of the charitable life of Lucia, the court members visit churches, hospitals, local businesses, and homes for the elderly telling the story of Santa Lucia and bringing the holiday spirit into the hearts of all they meet. These girls are goodwill representatives of all Scandinavian communities in Oregon and southwest Washington, and of the countries of their forebears- Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sankta Lucia is a favourite of mine, too!

Anonymous said...

Ja Liz, I'v Varit Lucia 2 gånger i mitt arbete, det är nice! Lucia från Sverige!