December 13 is Luciadagen (Santa Lucia Day). This is a day in celebration of the Italian saint, Saint Lucy, and is celebrated (with some variations) in all of Scandinavia, as well as in other European countries. Saint Lucy was a 4th century Christian martyr. The date of her martyrdom, December 13, is also said to be the shortest day of the year, hence the "darkest" day of the year. Saint Lucy, whose name means "light," is a natural for commemorating this dark day and giving hope that the light will return. The Scandinavian legends tell of a time of severe winter famine in Sweden, when the local community gathered to pray for food. Two ships appeared across Lake Vänern, loaded with food. Saint Lucy, with her white robe and wreath of candles, appeared at the helm of the first ship. (A similar miracle is part of her legend in Italy).
Luciadagen in Norway is borrowed from the Swedes. With the protestant reformation, saints days were mostly abolished, but after World War II, Luciadagen was resurrected in Norway. Traditionally, the oldest girl in the household will dress in a white gown with a red sash and wear a wreath with candles on her head. She may be followed in by her sisters (and sometimes brothers) also carrying candles. She brings food to all the inhabitants of the house (the Lussekater or Lucia buns). Now, it is most common for the children in schools to process through the school and hand out Lussekater. One girl is chosen to lead the procession as Santa Lucia, and she wears the crown of candles. In the kids' school today, the fifth grade performed the Lucia procession. They processed all over the school with candles (battery ones!) and handed out Lussekater to all 10 grades. As they process they sing the traditional Santa Lucia song.
If you want to hear the song, here is one of many YouTube links:
The words for the Norwegian version of the song (each country has their own version in their native language) are given, with translation, here:
(By the way, this is a really fun blog about Norway written by an Australian who married a Norwegian and found herself way up north in Tromsø. It's well worth browsing, for the photos as well as the insights into Norwegian culture).
One of the commercial results of the widespread celebration of this day is that Lucia gowns have been for sale since late November at our local toy store and other clothing stores. One of the signs that Christmas is coming!
The Twins and I bought our Lussekater at the local bakery, but we enjoyed them just the same! They are a sweet bun made with saffron to give them a really lovely golden color.