St. Lucia’s Day is one of the biggest Christmas celebrations in Sweden, and is also celebrated in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Croatia, and Bosnia. St. Lucia was a young girl martyred for her faith in 304 AD. Because her feast day fell near the Winter Solstice, the monks who brought Christianity to Sweden used her story to turn a pagan festival into a Christian one.
To celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, the oldest girl in a family wears a long white dress with a red sash and puts on a crown made of Lingonberry branches. The crown is adorned with candles in memory of St. Lucia, who wore candles on her head to light her way and keep her hands free when she brought food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs underneath the city of Rome. Little St. Lucia girls have electric candles in their crowns. Those over twelve get to risk immolation with real ones. Younger girls in the family can be tärnor (dressed like Lucia but minus the candles) and white clad boys can be Stjärngossar (star boys).
In addition to family celebrations, most schools choose a girl to be St. Lucia, and some villages and towns have St. Lucia processions. Special treats for St. Lucia’s Day include Lussekatts (raisin buns flavoured with saffron) and Pepparkakor (ginger snap cookies).