For Chalmers students, Lucia is often commemorated with big formal dinners amongst friends – the last celebration before heading home to their families for Christmas. For the Chalmers choir, however, it is one of the biggest events of the year. This year I had the privilege of being one of the Lucias in our Christmas concert series, which was held two weeks before the official Lucia day. I don’t know which scared me more: wearing a crown of actual candles in my long, curly hair, or having to memorise all the words to the Swedish songs to sing while leading the Lucia procession!
Despite my nervousness, it was a very special occasion for me to be a part of. Joining the Chalmers sångkör has given me the opportunity to connect with Swedes in a unique way – I get to see the creative, lively, and energetic side of Sweden that so often seems to get lost in the translation. While preparing for Lucia, I was supported by my choir friends at every step with kind guidance and good advice:
“Watch your head and chin position to keep the candle crown upright. Don’t strain your neck!”
“Here, wear this cloth on your head to avoid getting wax on your hair!”
“Don’t hold the candle directly under your nose – you might faint!”
And the oft-repeated advice for leading the procession: “Lucia is never in a hurry”
The concert was a resounding success, not least because it was the first concert we could host after the long Covid-19 drought. As I write this, reliving the concert memories, the emotion-filled weeks in preparation, and the special new friendships I had built, I realise that Lucia was also the light in my dark Swedish winter. I think fondly of my Lucia-wreath sitting safely in the fridge, where I am keeping it fresh for our upcoming Lucia procession on the 13th, and reflect on the Lucia lyrics:
The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house, she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.
The History of St Lucy’s Day
Saint Lucy’s day (referred to as “Sankta Lucia”, or just “Lucia” in Sweden) is commemorated on the 13th of December. Lucia was a Christian martyr from Syracuse that died in the 4th Century. Legend has it that she would bring food and necessities to refugee Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs. To navigate the dark caverns, she would wear a crown of candles on her head, which left her hands free to carry as many supplies as possible.
During the 18th century in Sweden, when the Julian calendar was still in use, Lucia would coincide with the Winter Solstice. During this darkest and longest night of the year, the image of a young girl with candles in her hair is one of hope and perseverance. It is very appropriate then that the name Lucia means light (from the Latin Lux, and lucis). Alongside Midsummer, Lucia is one of the most important cultural traditions in Sweden.