How does Norway celebrate Santa Lucia Day? 

Young children celebrating Santa Lucia Day.
Here's how and why Norway celebrates Santa Lucia. Pictured are Swedish children celebrating Santa Lucia in Japan. Photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno/ AFP.
Monday marks Santa Lucia Day, in Norway meaning you can expect to hear songs, see children with candles on their heads and, if you are lucky, get to try a "lussekatter" to mark the occasion. 

What is Santa Lucia day? 

Santa Lucia is a Christian tradition that celebrates Lucia, a Christian girl born in Sicily in 283. She dedicated her life to helping others, and to keep her hands free while she handed out food, she wore a candle on her head. 

Lucia was betrothed to a man by her mother, but the marriage was cancelled because Lucia wished to remain unmarried. This incurred the wrath of her fiancé to be, who informed the roman empire of her refusal.

After several punishments seemed to fail miraculously, first being rooted to the spot when soldiers tried to drag her to a brothel and then not catching alight when they tried to burn her alive, she died a martyr, falling to a roman sword. 

Historically and long before Norwegians had heard of Lucia, Santa Lucia was called Lussinatten, and you were forbidden from working (Unfortunately, that tradition has long since died out). From that night until Christmas, it was believed that spirits, gnomes, trolls and talking livestock roamed the earth, and Lussi, a feared sorceress, punished anyone who dared work.

Lussinatten marked the Julian calendar’s Winter Solstice or the year’s longest night. As Christianity was adopted in Norway the old folk tradition slowly started to die out as the day was instead used to commemorate Lucia instead and by the 20th century Lussinatten was more or less abandoned. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Norway’s national costume

How do Norwegians celebrate Santa Lucia?

After World War Two, the modern celebration of Santa Lucia took off. Yet, despite its Christian roots, the occasion is largely secular and more about getting into the festive spirit than about faith. 

Across the country, Lucia processions will take place in schools, workplaces, and (when there isn’t a global pandemic) in retirement homes and hospitals. 

Children dress in all-white costumes, with one child selected to be Lucia. The child chosen to be Lucia, traditionally a girl with blonde hair, although this has changed in recent years to be more inclusive, will lead the procession with candles on her head and sing “Luciasangen” or Santa Lucia. While girls typically take centre stage, boys are also incorporated, and carry star-staffs, and wear tall hats. 

For some parents having their child chosen to play Lucia merits similar bragging rights to them being cast as Mary or Joseph in the school nativity. It’s also not uncommon for parents to book the morning off to watch their child’s procession. 

The children who participate in the processions are typically much younger than in neighbouring Sweden, where teenagers rather than elementary school-age kids lead the parade. 

If the singing isn’t up your street, then luckily, the kids also hand out saffron buns called lussekatter, although many in Norway choose to substitute the spice that’s more expensive than gold with turmeric. 

The buns, meant to be served slightly warm, are paired with Gløgg, Norway’s slightly sweeter answer to mulled wine. 

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