For my family, the holiday season always begins today, December 13th, when St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated, twelve days before Christmas. In the Scandinavian enclaves of the United States it’s a big holiday celebrated with an early morning parade of young girls in white dresses with red sashes and a wreath and candles in their hair. Well, it used to be candles, now it’s little electric candles with a christmas bulb for a flame, but it’s still a beautiful morning celebration with a community breakfast with glorious coffeecakes rich with cardamom, delicate flaky gingersnaps and saffron buns with raisins called Lussekatts, or Lucia buns. Even if families don’t join in the community parade and breakfast, they will celebrate at home with the Lucia (usually the oldest daughter) serving everyone coffee and Lucia buns.
December 13th was the Solstice under the old Julian calendar and St. Lucia’s Day is a wonderful example of religious syncretism, the new religion adopting the solstice bonfires of the old religion in order to draw people in and more easily displace the old. It is a celebration of light and change in seasons albeit no longer on the real solstice. While it is a Saints Day, Swedes are usually Lutheran. It’s popularity probably stems from its pagan origins and the important of marking the coming of spring. Certainly, at home it’s celebrated in VFW halls and school cafeterias more often than in churches.
It’s funny how traditions matter, even living in a city without a Lucia tradition, I still found myself getting up at 6:30 AM and making myself a lovely omelette with lingonberries and a strong dark coffee to see in the sunrise. No candles, no coffeecake, but still the most important part, celebrating the sunrise and the anticipation of spring.