When I moved to Zambia, over ten years ago, it became important to me to try and keep some of the Swedish traditions I had grown up with. I have tried to pass some of them on to my children, although it is obviously difficult to keep a tradition alive when nobody around takes part or has any clue what it is all about. On the 13th of December swedes celebrate Lucia day. It’s a tradition that involves everyone with a Lucia train in school, at church, at work. And where the local paper will run a contest for a Lucia that will represent the county. You can not avoid it if you wanted to. We had plans to go and join the Lucia celebrations at the Swedish ambassadors residence, but due to flu we stayed at home. So on Saturday we made our own Lucia with the children. As much as it is and feels like a Swedish tradition it is really a combination of so many cultures and beliefs. The following is an extract from a book called “Tradition och liv” (tradition and life). I have translated it with a little help from Google:
“The Lucia figure is thus a mixture of many different motives. We encounter here a female Italian saint who, in a Nordic country, starting a medieval fast that no longer exists, singing songs that belong to Christmas, now sometimes in English. She is accompanied by star boys, who really are the symbols of the three wise men, the three Babylonian kings that really should not come until the Epiphany as we have not yet celebrated the birth of Jesus. Lucia is also accompanied by elves that belongs in the Swedish forest.
All this is good example of how our typical Swedish traditions really are testimony that we are and have always been a multicultural society with contacts all over the world. But we do not always think about that as we celebrate our Swedish culture with Brazilian coffee (grown by Portuguese immigrants). With the coffee we eat typical Swedish saffron buns flavored with saffron from Morocco and with raisins grown in California by Mexican immigrants of Spanish and Indian origin. “
In other words this Swedish tradition that I’m trying to hold on to is really a very multicultural event. The book also gives some background to why we go out singing in these Lucia trains. It all started as a means of raising money by students (all male in the 1800) and so even Lucia was represented by a young man. So I guess when my son wanted to be Lucia like his sister, he wasn’t so controversial after all!