The Darkest Night of the Year

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One Day Blog Hop – Casting Light upon the Darkness

This post is part of a ‘blog hop’, and I hope you’re reading this as well as checking out lots of other connected blogs on the above theme (see below for a list of participants).  Thanks to Helen Hollick for organising this!

When Helen told me what the theme was, my thoughts immediately went to the Swedish tradition of celebrating St Lucia on the 13th December.  I may have mentioned this before, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I repeat myself as it seems very apt.

Me aged about 3

It gets very dark in Sweden during the long winters and by December, there is only daylight between about 9am and 3pm, if that.  By the time the longest night of the year comes around (the winter solstice), any kind of light is very welcome and that’s where St Lucia comes in.

She is celebrated on the 13th of December, even though the actual solstice isn’t until 21st (- it used to be on the 13th when we still used the Julian calendar in the 18th century).  It is a rather strange tradition where the saint comes to light up the dark night and sing to you.  Most Swedish girls dress up in long white nightgowns/shifts and put candles on their heads (usually fake, although real ones can be used too), then go around and sing special songs.  Every school and every town will choose their own Lucia and the other girls are her attendants, called tärnor.  I was only ever Lucia at home (from an early age as you can see in this photo!) as to my great chagrin I was never chosen to be an official Lucia, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Little boys are made to wear strange looking hats and similar nightgowns, but some of them prefer to dress up as mini Santas instead (can’t blame them!).

Saffron buns ('Lussekatter')

It is also tradition to offer people Swedish gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor), which are not as strong as the English variety, and saffron or plain buns, shaped like an S (or cat), called lussekatter.  I make them every year as they are delicious, especially hot out of the oven!

Why St Lucia of Syracuse, Sicily, who was obviously Italian?  Apparently the poor woman suffered a sad death (some say she had her eyes put out before becoming a martyr), so she is deemed the best person to guide us through the darkness.  I have no idea how this tradition first started, but it has its origins in pagan celebrations which have somehow been connected with Christianity.  It certainly brightens up one December morning in the whole of Sweden though!

Thank you for visiting my blog – Happy Winter Solstice!

Now please continue to the next blog:-

Helen Holllick – A little light relief concerning those dark reviews! (plus giveaway)

Prue Batten – Casting Light …

Alison Morton – Shedding light on the Roman dusk (plus giveaway)

Anna Belfrage – Let there be light!

Beth Elliott – Steering by the Stars:  Stratford Canning in Constantinople 1810/12

Melanie Spiller – Lux Aeterna, the chant of eternal light

Petrea Burchard – Darkness – how did people of the past cope with dark? (plus giveaway)

Richard Denning – The Darkest Years of the Dark Ages:  What do we really know? (plus giveaway)

Pauline Barclay – Shedding Light on a Traditional Pie

David Ebsworth – Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War

David Pilling – Greek Fire (plus giveaway)

Debbie Young – Fear of the Dark

Derek Birks – Lies, Damned Lies and … Chronicles

Mark Patton – Casting Light on Saturnalia

Tim Hodkinson – Solstice@Newgrange

Wendy Percival – Ancestors in the spotlight

Judy Ridgley – Santa and his elves (plus giveaway)

Suzanne McLeod – The Dark of the Moon

Katherine Bone – Admiral Nelson, A Light in Dark Times

Edward James –The Secret Life of Christopher Columbus

Janis Pegrum Smith – Into the Light (a short story)

Julian Stockwin – Ghost Ships (plus giveaway)

Manda Scott – Dark into Light – Mithras and the older gods

Pat Bracewell – Anglo-Saxon art:  Splendour in the Dark

Lucienne Boyce – We will have a fire – 18th century protests against enclosure

Nicole Evelina – What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey?

Sky Purington – How the Celts cast light on current American Christmas traditions

Stuart MacAllister (Sir Read-a-Lot) – The Darkness of Depression

24 Comments »

  1. I have always been fascinated by the St Lucia maidens with their stunning crowns of lit candles. I would wear one today on the solstice…but knowing my luck I’d set my hair on fire!

    Comment by J.P. REEDMAN — December 21, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  2. I have a battery operated one you could borrow :-) (Not as pretty of course, but still looks nice in the dark)

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 10:30 am

  3. What an adorable photo of you, Christina! Thanks for the story of St Lucia.

    Comment by Wendy Percival — December 21, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  4. Thank you Wendy – the smallest Lucia’s are usually the best :-)

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  5. Those saffron buns look delicious Christina. Re St Lucia,what a strong faith these martyrs must have had to face such suffering. It’s good to hear that these old traditions are being kept alive.

    Comment by Margaret Kaine — December 21, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

  6. My daughter, now 10, did the story of St Lucia at our English village primary school a few years ago and was absolutely enchanted. She also loves IKEA Pepperkaka biscuits (we’re on our second of the season!) so she’ll be delighted when I tell her of this connection!

    Comment by Debbie Young — December 21, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

  7. What a fascinating blog, and I’d love to try one of those delicious looking Lussekatter.

    Comment by Lucienne Boyce — December 21, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  8. St Lucia may or may not have lost her eyes – open to debate – but she is the patron sight of the blind, and therefore, by association, of the light. Ergo, St Lucy’s day on the darkest day of the year. I agree with you; St Lucia is one of our better traditions, and itdoes light up an otherwise very dark December.

    Comment by Anna Belfrage — December 21, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

  9. Saffron buns look stunning! Are they like our Hot Cross buns??

    Comment by Dave McCall — December 21, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

  10. What a lovely post! I love the photo of you as Santa Lucia, and I think you may have to post a recipe for those buns!

    Comment by Pat Bracewell — December 21, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  11. Margaret – yes, it’s unbelievable how brave they were! Doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Debbie – how lovely! And I’m glad your daughter likes our ‘pepparkakor’, I love them :-)

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

  12. Lucienne – thank you, yes the Lussekatter are delicious :-)

    Dave – they’re not spicy at all, just plain buns with a taste of saffron. If you want to be really decadent, you can put butter on as well (I do!).

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

  13. Anna – I had forgotten about her being patron saint of the blind, that makes even more sense then :-)

    Pat – email me if you’d like the recipe!

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

  14. I love reading of the traditions in other parts of the world, Pia. And you looked so cute at Lucia :)

    Comment by Beverley Eikli — December 21, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

  15. I love the pagan traditions and I’m so glad they came down to us, by whatever route they found! I’ll have my lussekatter with butter, please.

    Comment by Petrea Burchard — December 21, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

  16. Thank you, Beverley :-)

    Petrea – good choice, they’re fab with butter!

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

  17. So interesting to read about different places and customs. Love the photo of you aged 3! :-)

    Comment by Helen Hollick — December 21, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

  18. Thanks, Helen :-) I’ve loved all the other posts today as well, so many fascinating ones!

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 21, 2013 @ 11:22 pm

  19. St. Lucy is one of my favorite saints, so this post is really special to me. Thanks for sharing the local traditions, including the food. I may have to do some investigating into the pagan origins of her story. Very, very interesting! Happy solstice to you!

    Comment by Nicole Evelina — December 22, 2013 @ 12:57 am

  20. Thank you, Nicole, glad you liked it – Happy Solstice to you too!

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 22, 2013 @ 1:12 am

  21. Many people come from Norway and Sweden to spend the winter here because of the long dark days back in their country. Light hours at this time of the year on our pebble in the ocean are around 7:15am to 6:15pm….. not too bad at all. Christina wishing you and your family a light and wonderful Christmas.

    Comment by paulinebarclay — December 22, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

  22. It sounds lovely, Pauline, and I hope you and your family have a brilliant Christmas too! xx

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 22, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

  23. Love the cat buns!

    Comment by Yves Fey — December 22, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

  24. Thank you, Yves, glad you like them :-)

    Comment by Christina Courtenay — December 23, 2013 @ 10:07 am

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