Words: Amy Keresztes

The Swedes are a festival-loving folk. In order to cope with the extremely short, dark days of November and December, they emphasize interior warmth, light, and cosiness. Drinking mulled wine and eating gingerbread cookies becomes a regular weekend ritual, everyone hangs paper lantern stars in their windows, and lights enough candles to burn down the entire country. These attempts to make something positive out of one of the world’s worst climates wouldn’t be complete without something cozy to settle in around the ears.

Sweden is culturally quite secular; that doesn’t stop them from going all-out each year to commemorate a Catholic saint. Traditionally, the eldest daughter of the household dresses in white with a wreath of candles in her hair and rises early on December 13th to bring saffron buns and coffee to her family. Nowadays it is more common to have public processions, with a Lucia “crowned” in every town and city, and most schools, churches, and daycares having their own Lucia procession and concert. To Americans it might seem a little old-fashioned and over-the-top, but the values of light, warmth, loved ones, good food and drink, and beautiful carols to set the mood are sure to remain a central part of the Swedish winter experience for many generations to come.

Here is a video of the traditional “Sankta Lucia” carol, always sung as the opening of a Lucia procession.

It’s a lush, warm carol with a simple refrain and a beautiful lyric:

Saint Lucia, clear bright mirage:

spread the light of your beauty in our winter night.

With its steady pace and rich harmonies, it wraps around you like a warm blanket. Christmas music lovers, it might be time to add this Swedish carol to your rotation; I know it’s become a favorite in my family’s home.

Happy Lucia!

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