O, Radiant Elfin Saint

The title of this post is an approximate translation of the first line of one of Sweden’s most well-known Lucia hymns, sung up and down the country by choirs young and old on and around December 13th.

Saint Lucia of Syracuse, or at least the actual Saint Lucy’s Day, seems to be mostly venerated in the Nordic countries or in regions with lots of present or historic Nordic expatriates such as Estonia or parts of the United States. I have literally grown up with this tradition of celebrating Saint Lucy’s day in Sweden, taking part in Lucia processions annually with few exceptions since 4th grade.

These processions are often performed by choirs, predominantly (in my experience, at least) youth or young adult or church choirs, who all dress up in white gowns, the women also wearing red waistbands. Commonly, the women also wear wreaths of boxwood, and typically the men wear white, cone-shaped hats adorned with stars or glitter. These maids and star boys (sic), respectively, act as Saint Lucia’s retinue of sorts. The woman (or, nowadays, somtimes the man) acting as Lucia herself wears a crown of candles and Lucia’s retinue carries a candle each.

A traditional Lucia procession featuring a high school class performing in a Swedish church. Photo by Claudia GrĂ¼nder.

Also customary for the Swedish Lucia celebration is the saffron bun, more specifically known as the “lussekatt” in connection to this holiday. They come in various shapes and sizes, most commonly looking like a reversed letter S as in the picture.

There is something about the entire Advent period, with Saint Lucy’s Day and Christmas as well, all the way to Twelfth Night, that just warms me to my core. A lot of it comes down to all the delicious food associated with this period: not only saffron buns, but also ginger nuts and mulled wine and plenty of other dishes and foodstuffs as well.

Photo by Jonas Bergsten.

But most of all, as I’m sure will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, it is about all the wonderful music.

For some reason, specifically performing in lucia processions has become a very important, very special thing to me. I hope I will keep getting the opportunity to do so for many years on. And add to that, of course, all the Advent and Christmas concerts you can imagine. There’s so much fantastic music out there, and so much yet to be written, but when it comes to seasonal music I honestly do think that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.