While I was in middle school I had an assignment to do a report, unfortunately I do not remember what exactly the assignment was only that I choose to do it on the Christmas traditions of Sweden. My father’s side of the family is from there and have only been in the U.S. for a couple of generations so we celebrated with some of the traditions. Actually my mother grow up with a nanny who was Scandinavian as well and we lived in Minnesota which has a large Scandinavian population so I have always been interested in those traditions. The one thing that I really remember about that report was Saint Lucia’s Day, not sure why.
This is one of the only Saint’s days to have survived the Reformation and there are a number of theories indicating that traditions associated with this holiday predate Christianity. In the old calender Saint Lucia’s day fell on the longest night of the year, the winter solicits. Lucia was born in Italy during a time when Christianity was not popular and became a martyr.
The tradition holds now that the in the Swedish households the eldest daughter would wear a white gown with a crown of candles and servers a bun made with saffron. The crown was once made of Lingonberry branches (an evergreen) and real candles, now the candles are mostly battery operated. Through out Sweden there are many contests to choose Lucias. From what I can tell any grouping of any size will choose one, from a day care, to a village to one for the nation. These Lucias will be honored as well as visit different people during the day. They have with them other girls dressed in white as the maids and more recently boys as well, who are known as Star boys. There are traditional songs that go along with these visits that I understand are much beloved.
I found one reference to help explain why the girls where the candles in there hair and the giving of the food. Ledge has it that Lucia was smuggling food to Christians during the night and to keep her hands free to care the food put the candles in her hair. I also found reference to a festival of lights as this was the longest night of the year.
Actually this day and many of the traditions are recognized by other countries as well. Through out Scandinavia as well as Italy to name a few.