Inside our St Lucia Day celebrations at Soho House Stockholm
The Scandinavian tradition is one of the holiest days on the Christmas calendar in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and parts of Finland (it’s also big news at Soho House Stockholm)
Wednesday 14 December 2022 By Sagal Mohammed
Scandinavia is known for many things: hygge, fashion and interiors are just a few of the region’s universally beloved staples. When it comes to holiday traditions, however, there’s a lot to learn about the Nordic nations.
Like many European countries, Scandinavians tend to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day as it is celebrated in the UK, US and other parts of the world. They also have their own traditional Christmas meals (that don’t involve turkey) and various festivities that are marked throughout the month of December – one of the most significant being St Lucia’s Day.
Also known as Lucia Day or St Lucy’s Day, it is a holy day celebrated annually on 13 December across Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Swedish speaking parts of Finland with a special ceremony that officially kicks off the Christmas period.
This year, Soho House honoured the tradition by hosting an intimate St Lucia’s Day event at the newly built Soho House Stockholm, where a mix of local and international guests and members experienced the celebrations first hand.
Intrigued by the concept? Here’s everything you need to know about the holy day, its historical context and how it’s celebrated.
What is St Lucia’s Day?
Historically, St Lucia’s Day honours one of the earliest Christian martyrs, St Lucia, who was killed by Romans in 304 CE due to her religious beliefs. According to Swedish folklore, St Lucia brought food to Christians hiding in Roman catacombs, lighting her way to them with a candlelit wreath on her head on 13 December – the shortest day on the Julian calendar and therefore the most dangerous, with the long night believed to bring dark spirits.
Today, St Lucia Day marks the beginning of the Christmas season, with schools across Scandinavia closed on 13 December to allow families to prepare for the holidays and get into the festive spirit.
Who celebrates it?
St Lucia’s Day is celebrated across Scandinavia, originally by Christians in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and parts of Finland, though it has grown into a cultural tradition celebrated in schools and local communities, as well as the church. St Lucia celebrations are also often broadcasted on TV and the radio.
How is it celebrated?
Held at dusk, the festive event is celebrated with a ceremony that sees a choir of young women – led by one who has been selected as St Lucia – all dressed in white and wearing wreaths on their heads. Young men, known as ‘star boys’ are dressed in all-white costumes as they sing traditional songs, including the main song, known in Swedish as ‘Sankta Lucia’. It’s taught in schools, which means most Scandinavians know it off by heart in their respective languages.
The woman who is picked as Lucia leads the way with a lit-up wreath on the top of her head or sometimes holding a lit candle, while some of the men carry lanterns. However, the smaller details vary, with some people and places adding modern twists to the longstanding tradition, such as scrapping the specific gender roles altogether.
Some traditional Scandinavian families observe St Lucia Day in their homes by having one of their daughters (typically the eldest) dress in white, and serve coffee and baked goods to members of the family and guests.
To get a taste of what it’s all about, spend the evening at Soho House Stockholm on 13 December for our take on the tradition.