Click on image to view lovely 2019 video of Lucia horse-drawn procession and service from Gränna, Sweden.
Santa Lucia Day, also called St. Lucy’s Day, is on December 13. It celebrates the legend of Saint Lucy bringing food to persecuted Christians in the catacombs during the 3rd century. Legend says that she carried candles in a wreath on her head, so that she could see while keeping her hands free to bring provisions. Because it used to be celebrated on the shortest day of the year, Santa Lucia Day has become a festival of lights. In Scandinavia, girls dress in white dresses with a red sash, with a wreath of candles on their heads. They carry food and sing songs to wake up the household in the early morning of December 13th.
The annual candlelit Lucia procession on 13 December is perhaps one of the more exotic-looking Swedish customs, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together. Among the youngest, anyone can be Lucia; as the children get older, the competition will harden.
The Lucia tradition can be traced back to St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304. In the old (Julian) almanac, Lucia Night was the longest of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak. By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were urged to eat seven or nine hearty breakfasts. This kind of feasting presaged the Christmas fast, which began on Lucia Day. In agrarian Sweden, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.
The first recorded appearance of a white-clad Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar custom virtually disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful carousals of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The custom whereby Lucia serves coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.