St. Lucia Day, December 13th: A Swedish Christmas Tradition Featuring Breakfast in Bed!

By , December 13, 2009

Today is Saint Lucia Day. This is an important day in many family Christmas celebrations around the world, and has become so in our family as well.

Sometimes known as “Little Yule,” St. Lucia Day is a festival of lights in Sweden, traditionally the first day of their Christmas season. Before the change to the current calendar, the day was the Winter Solstice. The root word of the names Lucia and Lucy is Luce, or light. As such, Saint Lucia is an appropriate personification of the returning light of the sun.

This same root applies to the name Lucifer, by the way, which actually means “light bringer.” Apparently a deeply-reviled Babylonian king was known as “the evening star.” He became known as Lucifer, and eventually was promoted to the role of Satan! However, “light bringer” also applies to the Christ, which is why Jesus was sometimes referred to as Lucifer as well! That little bit of trivia really messes with some people’s minds.

The customs of St. Lucia Day are quite charming. Early on that morning, in many homes all across Sweden, the eldest daughter of the house dresses in a white gown and dons a crown of evergreens set with four candles. She then serves her parents breakfast in bed. Ceremoniously bearing a tray of hot coffee and Saint Lucia buns, escorted by younger brothers and sisters, who wear conical hats with stars on top, they enter their parents’ bedroom singing the Italian song, Santa Lucia. Swedish tradition holds that St. Lucia saved the country from famine by bringing food. According to legend she appeared with a halo of light about her head. Apparently the breakfast in bed ritual commemorates this event.

I learned of these customs years ago, and told Aly about them one Christmas. She identified with the photos and paintings of little Swedish girls, all invariably blonde and blue eyed, like her, and decided she would like to follow this custom. We made a construction paper crown of evergreen and candles using a paper plate, and she had a lot of help setting up the breakfast tray before Michelle and I returned to bed to receive our visit. It was wonderful!

Aly observes St. Lucia Day in 2003 (10 years old).

Aly observes St. Lucia Day in 2003 (10 years old).

Checking the fit . . . .

Checking the fit . . . .

The next year, Aly’s grandmother made her a white gown. The receptionist at my office was Swedish, and had even been chosen as Saint Lucia many years running in her youth—apparently Sweden holds an annual beauty contest for the honor of representing St. Lucia nationally. She wrote to her sister in Sweden, and received a modern St. Lucia crown, a headband with artificial greens and battery-powered candles.

Since then, it has been our custom to greet the morning of December 13th as the Swedes do. However, she’s a teenager now, so each year I broach the subject delicately. She decided against it last year. She seemed more interested this year, but she’s outgrown the white gown her grandmother made her, so I didn’t expect breakfast in bed this morning. As it happens, I’m having my coffee at the table this day, but fondly remembering the past.

If this sounds like fun to you, a recipe for St. Lucia buns can be found in Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook.

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