Tonight my attention turns from Korea to Sweden and Swedish culture. My wife’s coworker invited us to join them today for a St. Lucia’s Day celebration at the Seoul Club sponsored by the Swedish Women’s Education Association (SWEA). We had a great time, met some nice Swedes, and came away with a few prizes. You can’t beat that.
In Sweden, December 13 is Luciadagen, or St. Lucia’s Day. It is the beginning of their holiday season. St. Lucia was a young woman who lived in first century Rome. She was a Christian who would not give up her faith to marry an unbeliever. She was tortured and killed by order of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian.Stories of her courage were brought to Sweden by missionaries where she became known as the Lucia Bride [Lussi or Lussibruden]. Old people said the Lucia Bride would go out early in the morning to bring food and drink to the poor. She wore white robes and a crown of light.The story is acted out in Swedish homes with the oldest daughter playing the Lucia Bride. Early in the morning on December 13, she brings her parents a tray of sweet saffron buns [
Lussekattor] and some coffee. She wears a white gown and a crown of greens, often made of holly. Her sisters and brothers dress in white and follow her. The girls carry lit candles and the boys wear tall, pointed caps and are called “star boys.”St. Lucia is also honored in Sicily, where she was born. Christians there gather to celebrate her day with bonfires and torchlight parades…a fitting celebration since Lucia means “light.”
I should also add a few other interesting tidbits about the holiday, which is celebrated by both Swedes and Norwegians. To many Scandinavians, St. Lucia’s Day serves as the advent of the winter holiday season. In Swedish lore, St. Lucia symbolizes winter and rivals Santa Claus (Jultomte) in stature. I find it intriguing that although St. Lucia was actually from Sicily, she is honored in Scandinavia as well as in Sicily. Reputedly executed by Emperor Diocletian on December 13, A.D. 303, her final resting place is in the Church of Santa Lucia in Venice, Italy. Although some claim that St. Lucia visited Sweden, this is highly unlikely unless her potential suitor was of Viking origin. I believe that Scandinavia, with its emphasis on egalitarianism, embraced the celebration in order to honor the role of women in Swedish society. The fact that it became a Swedish national holiday in the 1920’s underscores this assumption.
It is also interesting to note that girls no longer wear lit candles during the holiday because of a few Michael Jackson-esque accidents in which head and hair frequently burned. Apparently, nowadays crowns of candles are battery powered.
We had a great time tonight at the St. Lucia’s Day celebration. The event started with a narrative about the holiday. I’m glad that the language spoken was English, not Swedish. Then, a procession led by a girl adorned with acrown of battery-powered candles representing St. Lucia marched to the front of the room. They sang a medley of beautiful holiday songs in Swedish. When the performance ended, we enjoyed glögg, lussekatten and other pastries, and European coffee. The children joined Santa Claus for a photo op, and I took my son up to stand next to Santa. Unfortunately, he was too scared to sit on Santa’s lap. The evening ended with a raffle. It went on for over an hour. We walked away with a pearl necklace and a gift pack of crispy bread and three kinds of herring. My wife will thoroughly enjoy both gifts. The evening put us all in a festive spirit. I posted some photos of the event as well as a photo of Seoul Tower lit up for the holidays. Enjoy!
From the “Things the Make You Go…Hmm” Department: Surely I’m not the only person who finds it ironic that someone named Bush won the Heisman Trophy (Reggie Bush, USC), beating out a player from Texas (Vince Young, University of Texas). Then again, sports and politics make strange bedfellows.