Catholic Activity: Swedish Lucia Feast
Ideas for a little party to celebrate St. Lucia's Day, December 13. Includes ideas for decorations, ceremony and refreshments.
The Swedish Yule begins on December 13 with Luciadagen, Saint Lucy's Day. The traditional ceremony enacted in Swedish households on this occasion suggests a unique and effective pattern for American hostesses to follow during Christmas holiday entertaining. For afternoon bridge, for your club, a holiday shower, or an evening dessert, the Lucia Day custom of having the oldest daughter ceremoniously serve the guests with coffee, buns, and cakes from a daintily appointed tray may be easily adapted.
Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily, in the fourth century. Tradition says she cut out her eyes because their beauty attracted a heathen nobleman. She was denounced as a Christian and condemned to death during the reign of Diocletian.
Scandinavian observance of Lucia's festival has come down through the centuries. In some parts of Sweden old people used to say that the Lucia Bride, clothed in white and crowned with light, could be seen between three and four o'clock in the morning on December 13, moving across icy lakes and snow-covered hills with food and drink for parish folk.
The Lucia legend is beloved by Sweden's hospitable people. On December 13, Yuletide is opened officially in cities and villages by a young girl re-enacting the role of the Lucia Bride, who visits each household at dawn with a tray of coffee and cakes. In Stockholm, Lucia is chosen by popular vote in much the same way as beauty queens are elected in the United States. In the homes, however, Lucia usually is represented by the oldest daughter in the family.
Of the many folk customs that exist in connection with Luciadagen, one of the most interesting is that the year's threshing, spinning, and weaving must be finished and everything put in order for the Christmas holidays. Before this day boys and girls finish making Christmas presents. The housewife completes her weeks of holiday baking and makes the tallow dips for table and Christmas tree; the lutfisk, traditional Christmas fish, is already buried in beech ashes, so it will be sweet for the holiday feast.
DECORATIONS Cover a long table with a lace or linen cloth and set it, buffet style, with plates of buns and cookies and with coffee cups, dessert plates, silver, and napkins.
An effective centerpiece is a deep copper bowl, wreathed with long-needled pine and delicately silvered twigs; in the center place three lighted, faun-shaped candles.*[CC Editor's Note: At the time of printing, the companies recommended were Emkay Candle Company and Tavern Candles. You can find reproductions of Gurney's fawn candles or search on eBay.com for vintage candles. JGM] Arrange ceramic foxes so their tiny heads peek through the pine and look toward the fauns in the bowl. Another attractive centerpiece is a low crystal bowl surrounded with holly. Fill the bowl partially with water and float in it three white lily candles with their green waxed pads.
At either end of the table place three-branch candlesticks. Wrap the base of red and white candles with strips of red and white fringed tissue paper before inserting in the candlestick sockets. Set red and white candles in the windows, on the mantel, and on bookcases, to give the room a festive appearance.
LUCIA CEREMONY CHARACTERS: Lucia Bride Optional:2 Girl Attendants Little Stars (if there are little children , the family) Optional Star Boys (Stjärngossarna) AGE: Pre-teen—Teen NUMBER OF ATTENDANTS: As many children as in the family; additional friends and neighbors as desired EQUIPMENT: For Lucia Bride, large tray, of copper if possible, set with small matching coffee service, two or three cups and saucers, plates of cakes; for Little Stars, tiny silver wands, decorated on top with silver Christmas tree stars; piano if desired When it is time to serve refreshments, turn off the electricity and light all the candles. Luciadagen is the festival of light! Lucia and her attendants then enter singing the Swedish Lucia song, to the tune of "Santa Lucia":
Night goes with silent steps Round house and cottage. Over the earth that the sun forgot Dark shadows linger. Then on our threshold stands Whiteclad, with candles in her hair, Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia. (English version by Holger Lundbergh)Lucia is the embodiment of the Christmas spirit in a simple long white robe, crimson sash and stockings, and a crown of huckleberry leaves (as a good substitute for the shiny lignon leaves used in Sweden). Wired to the crown are the traditional nine white candles which, to avoid fire hazard, should remain unlighted.
Lucia, carrying the coffee service on the copper tray, goes to the guests and holds it so they may serve themselves. Her attendants furnish china, silver, and napkins from the party table and replenish the tray.
Lucia's attendants are dressed similarly to herself, with the exception of the special crown which she alone wears. When there are small children in the family, they may be included in the ceremony as Little Stars, wearing simple white slips and peaked silver-paper caps and carrying the silver wands. If there are older boys, they may play the role of the Stjärngossarna), or Star Boys, who in Sweden often accompany Lucia as she makes parish rounds. The boys wear white robes and their tall peaked silver caps are adorned with moon and star cutouts. One boy carries an illumined paper star which is fastened to a pole and revolves like a pinwheel.
The Lucia Bride and her attendants serve traditional saffron-seasoned buns known as lussekatter, or "Lucia cats," which are made in the shape of an X, with curledup ends and raisin eyes, and ginger cookies called pepparkakor.
Much of the charm of the Lucia Fest lies in the opportunity it gives the young people of the family to help entertain. After refreshments have been enjoyed, it will be quite natural and enjoyable for the guests to gather around the piano and sing the beloved Christmas carols. Everyone will want to know about the Lucia custom, so the girls will tell the story of how this kind of coffee party originated centuries ago in Sweden, and how, even today, the Lucia Bride visits not only her own family, but hospitals, orphanages, and old peoples' homes as well. She calls on everyone who is ill or lonely, just as her medieval counterpart was said to have done.
REFRESHMENTS Lussekatter (Lucia Buns) Pepparkakor (Ginger Cookies)
Activity Source: Folk Party Fun by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Association Press, New York, 1954