Tag Archives: tradition

Santa Lucia

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Ah the options of a story today: how my friend and I missed the biggest Christmas market in Sweden (we searched high and low, but simply couldn’t find it), how I missed the lecture by Konstantin Novoselov, one of the receivers of the Nobel Prize in Physics this year for his work on graphene (on a regular lecture, you can make full use of the academic 15 mins – however, it doesn’t quite seem to work that way when the speaker recently won a Nobel Prize), or how I decorated my house with Swedish Christmas decorations (I will get you some photos of that later, though). But since I know how much you love hearing about foreign traditions ;) (although it seems to be celebrated in some parts of the US also), I present to you: Santa Lucia!

 
You are really supposed to be celebrating it by the crack of dawn, but I was lucky enough to be in a lab where the Lussetåg only came by around 3pm. So while enjoying my lussekatt and a hot chocolate, I saw my very first Lucia procession: first comes Lucia, a girl dressed in white with long blonde hair, 5 candles (fake ones!) on her head and a red ribbon around her waist, followed by a number of other girls (virgins, supposedly…), dressed similarly but for the candles and the ribbon, and stjärngossar, and boys dressed in white with a princess-like hat and holding a star. And yes, that looks very gay. Subsequently, they sing. There appear to be a finite number of Lucia songs, but they ALL have to be sung. Which, if you don’t understand the lyrics and the singers aren’t very well trained, can be… a bit long. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to experience and see – they were clearly very nervous and not always sure which song was the next, with the occasional girl starting to sing on her own and then – oops! – shut up :).

Lucia up front, with the virgins and the stjärngossar behind her.


For the occasion, they also brought a gingerbread girl, Santa, and a Christmas tree.

So because I also needed to see a ‘real’ (read: serious) Lussetåg, I had subscribed to an event organized by an organization for foreigners, and this is what their Lucia looked like:

They could sing. Really. And yes, that are real candles on her head (on of the stjärngossar was carrying a bucket of water, just in case).

 
For those interested in some background history, you can read up on it below – for everyone else, I give you a picture of myself being very proud of my first home-made lussebullar (saffron buns), and the recipe!

Ingredients: 1 stick butter (8 Tbsp.), 1 1/3 c. milk, pinch saffron, 3 Tbsp. yeast, 2/3 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 eggs (1 in dough, 1 to brush), 4 c. flour, raisins for garnish
Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Add milk and saffron and heat until about body temperature. Mix milk mixture and yeast and let sit about five minutes. Add the sugar, salt, one egg, and about half the flour. Knead the dough on a floured surface, adding flour to make a smooth dough. Let rise in a warm place about half an hour. Punch down, and then form into buns. Lay it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and tuck raisins into them. Let rise again in a warm place. Brush the risen buns with beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees F about 15 min, until buns are golden brown.

 
Lucia was a Sicilian virgin who died as a martyr in the 4th century after she was denounced to the Roman authorities as a christian by the man she refused to marry. The Romans, unable to move her, even with a 1000 man and 50 oxen pulling (try to picture this… does anybody else find it hilarious??), decided to burn her. Which obviously didn’t work – as it never does with saints. Wikipedia states that a soldier got annoyed by her continuous reciting of encouraging words to other christians and stabbed her in the throat to shut her up (which… didn’t work, indeed), but my colleague claims she was complimented on her beautiful eyes by one of the Roman guards, after which she took them out (as only saints can do) and offered them to him. In return for her cheekiness, she was then stabbed in the side (hence the red ribbon).

If you’re wondering how the Sicilian Lucia came to be one of the few saints to be celebrated in protestant Sweden – I haven’t got a clue. It was probably a mixture of traditions, since December 13 was previously believed to be the shortest day of the year, and the most dangerous one, for Lussi, a female demon, would then ride through the night to take away naughty children (through the chimney). The importance of light (lux – lucia) in this time of year melted together with the day of Lucia (who is claimed to have put burning candles on her head to have both hands free while working in the catacombs). According to the same colleague though, it was just an excuse for students to party – but that in turn might derive from the custom of staying awake during Lusse-night, to make sure nothing bad happened. However it came to be – it is a must-celebrate for every Swede, and I’m happy to join in, if only because I love the lussekatten/lussebullar/saffron buns ;o).

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Let me tell you something about Santa Claus…

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… he’s not real!

(I shocked you there, didn’t I?)

THIS is the real Santa Claus, aka Sinterklaas:

Portrait of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.

Image via Wikipedia

Although I had to let go of the brilliant idea that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus, even Wikipedia agrees that we, in the Low Countries, have the true and original saint. Ha! Moreover, we’ve managed to get the Americans to adopt him for Christmas, only to have them export him back to Europe. It is ironic, in a way, but since it means I got presents TWICE in december as a kid, you don’t hear me complaining ;).

See, for us, Belgian kids, the highlight of the year is December 6 – sure, you get presents from your parents and family with Christmas, but the true event to look forward to is when Sinterklaas arrives in the country. Days, even weeks before the big day, we would put out our shoe near the window, hoping Zwarte Piet (Black Pete, Sinterklaas’ servant) would know we didn’t have a chimney and he’d have to get in through the window. We’d leave our letter to Sinterklaas, with a long list of the presents we would like to receive, a carrot or a sugar lump for his big, white horse Slechtweervandaag (Badweathertoday), and occasionally a beer for Zwarte Piet (not always – we didn’t want to get him drunk). The next morning, the letter was gone, the carrot was left half-eaten and the beer bottle was empty, but some candy had been left instead. The proof was overwhelming: Sinterklaas had come! And he had taken our letter!

via Google Images

My mum was sure sometimes she heard the horse on the roof, but I never did… but then again I wasn’t such a good listener. Sometimes though, Zwarte Piet would slam open the door and throw cookies and candy around – you never knew when he would come, or from which door (although attentive children might have noted it was the door through which their father disappeared 5 minutes before) and you had to be REALLY quick to see him. But when the doorbell rang on the night of December 5th, and Sinterklaas and 3 or 4 of his Zwarte Piet’s entered the room, everybody froze. Excitement, because the big bag Zware Piet was carrying promised presents, but also fear: Sinterklaas had a big book in which all your mischief was listed, and you could only hope the list wasn’t so long that Zwarte Piet would be tempted to put you in the bag and take you back to Spain with them… . The way they were standing behind their boss, looking very big and black (it’s not racism. it’s from going up and down the chimney.) and serious, was pretty daunting, so I generally tried to please them by singing or playing a song on my flute – and it worked every time ;). Of course, the Sint couldn’t make it to our house every year – there were just too many kids to be visited, but even when he was busy he’d make a quick stop during the night and left our well-deserved gifts in our shoes.

Image via Google Images

This year though, I have bought the Sint a gift. A GPS. Because my grandma has moved 3 times since I was small, but he still brings MY chocolate to HER place. And you know what I found in my shoe this year?

An un-eaten carrot!

If you want to know the whole story of Sinterklaas/Santa Claus, I refer to Wikipedia, here is the story of how I, as a Belgian child in the 80’s, experienced the whole thing – traditions evolve and differ slightly in the Netherlands, Germany, … so you might find other versions elsewhere.