For many, it’s just not Christmas without Santa Lucia—a traditional Swedish holiday that embraces one of the darkest times of the year with light-filled revelry, harmonious song, and unforgettable sweets. Santa Lucia has been celebrated annually every December 13 since the 18th century. The holiday honors St. Lucia, a young Italian martyr known for her love and kindness. In St. Lucia Day tradition, a family’s eldest daughter, wearing a long white chemise, a wreath of lingonberries, and a crown of nine candles, wakes the household with an offering of coffee and treats. Dressed to resemble St. Lucia, her presence symbolizes the return of light days and a joyous start to the Christmas season.
Hundreds of years later, St. Lucia’s light still burns bright. In modern day Sweden, most schools have an annual Santa Lucia pageant. Boys are dressed as “star boys” or Christmas characters and girls are dressed either as St. Lucia or, carrying just a single candle, one of her handmaids—they all sing the Neapolitan folk song “Santa Lucia” and other Christmas carols. Each year, schools elect one lucky child as St. Lucia, with a national St. Lucia announced on television.
Days leading up to Santa Lucia are often spent together in the kitchen baking saffron buns shaped like curled-up cats with raisin eyes, elaborately decorated gingerbread cookies, and brewing glogg, a Swedish spiced wine, to sweeten up the holiday.
Lucia Crown (6643 KB)
Ahh, sweet summer is here and with it the glorious arrival of a everyone’s favorite flower – the peony!
With its spectacular display of colors (think pink, red, yellow and white!), lush, unbridled petals, and a delicate, intoxicating fragrance, it’s no surprise that the peony has been a delighting the senses for thousands of years. In fact, written records from as far back as 8 their enchanting beauty. Is it any wonder then that the peony is known the world over as “queen of the flowers?”
Today, peonies are just as stunning as ever and, thanks to new and improved varieties they're even easier to grow. There are three main types of peonies to consider when planting. The most common and widely available is the herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora). Herbaceous peonies grow to about three feet tall, die back to the ground each winter, then sends up vigorous sprouts each spring. The other is the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), a slow-growing woody-stemmed shrub that can reach up to six feet. The third is a hybrid of the two. A combination of all three makes for a spring garden that darn near looks like it jumped out of a painting.
As dazzling as peonies are, they’re surprisingly no-fuss and require very little attention (I’m talking to you, brown-thumbs!) They survive the harshest winters, are practically drought resistant, and aren't bothered by deer or rabbits. Though peonies fare best in cool climates, early-blooming varieties with low-chill requirements can thrive in even some parts of the deep South.
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