By Menkiti Onyebuchi Bernie, Editor
In Africa, more so in Nigeria, it’s believed that the West, largely Europeans have no known culture. This has been a widely held belief, standing for ages without an intense attempt by Africans who had traveled, interacted, and studied the history of the Europeans to debunk it.
In Sweden and many European states, certain cultural practices are held high and celebrated every turn of the year to mark an important event in the life of the people.
Today, the 13th of December, 2020 is St. Lucy’s Day, set aside to celebrate a well-known tradition spanning many years in all Swedish-speaking areas throughout Europe.
It remains one of those many cultures that evokes the spirit of ancient feeling, the connection between the legends of the past and the breakthroughs of the now; the beauty of tradition, and the need to use culture to promote unity and rebirth.
Celebrated every December, the origin of St. Lucy’s Day is somewhat a mystery, yet variations of stories of how the events of the time began are told. The St. Lucy’s Day celebration according to reports appeared in Sweden first in 1764 but became a widely held and known tradition by the 1900s when locals, Swedish schools, and Swedish associations began promoting to celebrate it annually in a more deliberate way.
It is believed to be rooted in Lucia tradition, an old tradition believed by historians to have begun with the celebrated martyr, St Lucia of Syracuse who died in the year 304.
In other words, it is a 4th-century event that celebrates the Lucia of Syracuse who according to the stories of the time provided succor, like food to Christians who were running away from the Roman Catholic onslaught. She was said to have lightened up the path holding candlelight and an encircled lit-up candlelight wreath on her head.
According to legends, this event has been foretold to have meant a great time in the history of the Swedish people. According to known folklore, the Juan Calendar is significant in mapping this special day. And every 13 December is regarded as the shortest day, but one with the longest night in Swedish Juan Calendar.
It is believed that the long night on this day was usually filled with evil dark spirits roaming around, making the night dangerous. As it is said, to put away these evil spirits requires staying up at night and more so eating supper into the night. According to ‘visit Sweden’, the late-night food is connected to the feasting seen in the celebration of St. Lucy’s Day today.
However, according to the old calendar, Lucia was usually a dangerous night as earlier highlighted. On this night it said that spirits are up to devour while the beasts of the wild, including domesticated animals, speak.
During celebrations in Sweden, young people usually dress up as Lucia, going from house to house, singing songs, and gathering food and schnapps. It is usually a procession with handmaidens as it’s core unit, the star boys and the gingerbread men all forming a solid partnership. In some instances, children are permitted to form a unit and participate in the procession as Christmas elves.
The main observational tradition during these processions, one that defines Lucia and it’s significance is a lit-up wreath worn on the head by anyone who plays the role of Lucia, and the handmaidens who wear glittering wreaths on their hair.
More so, is the significance of the Star boys, who traditionally wear an ‘all-white-gown’ like the other two units, Lucia and the handmaidens. They also were cone-like hats, wielding the star sticks as well. The gingerbread men have their one special role. Known as the lantern-carrying unit. They wear gingerbread costumes, adorned with white icing.
These set of units, each playing a role walk in mass procession singing and lighting up the path reminiscent of St. Lucy’s feat, an act of goodwill to humanity.
A night of light, hymns, food and reflections.