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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. 



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Photography by Susanna Blavarg

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