With flowing white gowns, a candlelit procession, and lots of festive singing, Lucia, which is celebrated in Scandinavia today (and on 13 December every year) is a wonderful, exotic Nordic custom. The festival was founded to celebrate Saint Lucy, a 3rd century saint, who is said to have brought food to persecuted Christians hiding in catacombs, using a wreath of candles to keep her hands free so as to carry as much food as possible. Today, Lucia represents light in the midst of a dark winter, and alongside Midsummer represents one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden.
A person is selected to represent Lucia after a very competitive process, and leads the procession. Lucia wears a wreath of light - traditionally candles, although battery powered lights are often used now. Following Lucia are handmaidens, also dressed in full length white gowns, and carrying candles, as well as star boys, who carry stars on sticks, and have tall paper cones on their heads.
The effect of the candles in the darkened church is very dramatic, and a truly beautiful sight. To Swedes, Lucia is a wonderful part of their upbringing, a chance to get family together and as the start of the Christmas celebrations to brighten the long, dark Scandinavian winters. If you are in Sweden or Norway on 13 December, watching a Lucia procession is not only a beautiful experience, but a real insight into one of the Nordic countries' oldest traditions.
Lucia is also a chance to sample some delicious traditional treats, including ginger snaps, lussekatter (saffron - buns) and some warming glögg (mulled wine)!
Here a girl playing the role of Lucia (with the candle wreath on her head) leads her handmaidens, each carrying candles, through the beautiful wintry Swedish landscape.
Many Swedes replicate the traditional Lucia decorations in their home. Here a beautiful 'julstjärna' (Christmas star) hangs in the window, with warming, cosy candles on the window sill. It is common for Swedish homes to be built with large window sills to allow plenty of space for the traditional seasonal decorations!