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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Saint Lucia and how the pagan rituals survive

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On the 13th of December all Swedes join to celebrate the day of Saint Lucia. You would think that Saint Lucia, being a catholic saint, clashes with the Lutheran Swedish society but many people argue that the festivities of the 13th of December goes back long before Christianity even arrived.

It is unclear why only Sweden of all countries chose to celebrate a day in her honor. The story of Saint Lucia is surely a sad one. Lucia was a young woman who died a martyr’s death for her convictions. She used her dowry to feed people stricken with poverty and thus angering her husband who then tried to burn her at the stake. The flames however didn’t touch her so he slew her with a sword instead but only after he had cut her eyes out. The story goes that by cutting her eyes out she received a vision far greater than she would have with normal eyes (This all rings a bell for people who have read Oedipus). So now she is the patron saint of Syracuse and people with eye complaint pray to her.

This, of course, have nothing to do with Sweden. And I being Swedish and all did not know any of this. I just googled those facts up. Which is my point. No one celebrate the day of Saint Lucia in honor of Saint Lucia here. So why the festivity?

Around 1750 Sweden adapted to the Gregorian calendar. Before that the night between the 12th and the 13th of December was the longest night. So in the darkest time of the year all Swedes celebrated the light or rather took refuge in the light. If I look out through my window I can see candlesticks in all the windows of my neighbours already. And it all breaks out into a festivity of lights on the “Lucia night”. Some historians believe that this night has been crucial to the Swedish people for a very long time and even though Saint Lucia started getting attention as early as the 18th century the night was holy before that.

It seems like old cultural holidays and mannerisms have a way of surviving by simply adapting new symbols. So this year I’ll once again light candles, drink glögg (hot sweat wine) and eat Lussebullar (buns with saffron in it) and I will not give a single thought to whoever Lucia was.

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