Lucia – let there be light

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She brings light on the darkest day of the year.  Or at least that was the idea flourishing in pre-Christianity Scandinavia when it was decided that the 13th of December was it. Now we may know different but old traditions stick.

It is likely a bit of an amalgamation of several traditions starting in the 6th century when it was believed that on this night Lussi the female witch or demon rode through the skies. She was not alone through as her followers the Lussiferda came along as did trolls and evil spirits. Particularly kids had to watch out if they had done mischief during the year as they could get snatched in the dark. To avoid this and to complete chores the preceding night (the night between 12-13 December) many stayed awake to hold a wake. In modern times this is a popular student party night in Sweden and many clubs are open all night.

The other part of the story is that she was born in year 283 and died in 310 in Syracuse, Sicily. She became a devout Christian after that an Angel appeared to her in a dream but stuck to her beliefs as she was set alight and had a spear stuck through her throat to silence her. She is also said to have helped Christians hide in the dark Catacombs of Rome. She wore a reef with candles on her head to keep her hands free. Coincidently the name Lucy is also derived from the word for light Lux and lucis. Nowadays in Sweden Lucia’s are chosen in competitions and are traditionally girls with long blond hair (St Lucy was depicted that way in 15th century paintings). Lucia is always dressed in a white robe with a red belt (to symbolize her martyrdom) accompanied by female followers as well as “star boys” (stjärngossar) who carry one candle only. The boys are wearing pointed hats decorated with golden stars.  They all sing Christmas songs and are often made up by choirs.

In the US the star boy’s outfits have been likened with those of the KKK but they have no connection. One Urban myth has it that as the celebration almost coincides with the Nobel Prize ceremony (10 Dec) Nobel laureates are woken up by a Lucia procession at Grand Hotel in Stockholm. One of the laureates who had never heard about the tradition when faced by a choir of blond women carrying candles thought he had reached heaven.

On a windy eve (de)light was spread on Lange Voorhout in The Hague.

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