It is dark when I wake up. It has been for the last two months. I sit inside my school when there is daylight. When I return home at 3 p.m., it is already dark and feels like it is time to go to bed. We have little light in Sweden during the winter.
We take Vitamin D supplements. We eat oranges. But what can truly warm our hearts and free our minds on dark, cloudy days is the holiday season and to celebrate St. Lucia.
St. Lucia, Dec. 13, is a holiday that originated in Italy. She was a wealthy young woman who decided to donate all of her money to charity, as she believed this to be the will of God. However, upon hearing this, her betrothed murders her. Every year on Dec. 13 she is remembered for her kindness and her charity.
She has special significance in Sweden.
As the named, “Saint of Light,” her story is that after her murder, her eyes were plucked out, believing that she would also be blind in the afterlife without them. But when her body was being prepared to be put away, they found her eyes restored to their rightful place, unharmed. Because of this, she is is the patron saint of the blind. And as we move forward through the cold dark winter, it’s easy to feel blind. But when we have Lucia to light our way, there is no need for fear.
This is why in Sweden, a young woman is chosen to be the Lucia and wear a crown of candles and lingonris (lingonberry leaves). She walks with a group of young women and boys (called Star Boys). They all carry Luciakatter, or saffron buns. These buns are handed out to the people in their town and neighborhoods as candles light their way. This is to symbolize that even though there is darkness, the light will come.
I’ve been chosen to be the Lucia at my school. This means I will wear a white dress and a crown of lit candles. I’ve been told I must be careful. The fumes from the candles can make the Lucia dizzy or pass out. And the candle wax can fall onto my hair or skin and possibly burn me. But, I’ve been assured, they are prepared to support me, and I have a group of people I can trust to throw water on my head should I burst into flame.
I am ready to be Lucia. I’ve been celebrating this holiday with my mother since I was a little girl. I would wear a white dress and a red sash (or my mom’s red scarf). I wore a plastic gold crown topped with fake candle lit by AAA batteries. We tried to make saffron buns, which sometimes burned. Sometimes we would buy saffron buns from the IKEA frozen food section. It was an attempt to be closer to our Swedish roots.
This is what makes finally celebrating it in front of a crowd more meaningful to me. There will be Swedish songs, smiles and cheers. And for the 15 minutes on stage, I know my mother is with me, smiling, as I live out what she had always dreamed.
Swedish traditions like these are what keep me striving for the Swedish experience.
My friends from choir squealed with excitement when they found out that I had never performed Lucia before. “The lights, it’s all in the lights,” they said. Then we set flame to each of our candles, smiling with grace.
As Christmas nears, there is more cause for celebration. There are the Christmas concerts, carolers and even more lights. My host mother and sister have taken to decorating the entire house with hearts that say “God Jul” (Merry Christmas) and placed small Tomte (Santa) figures in every room, and advent calendars filled with chocolates.
My school friends have told me that Christmas Eve is the true celebration, with kottbullar (meatballs), pickled herring, Lutefisk (lye-fish in white gravy), and the traditional drinks of Glogg (mulled wine) and Julmust.
I find myself missing home more often, as expected for someone who has left their family in another country. I make more calls to mom and dad, have more thoughts of friends back home, and the dances and clubs I’m missing. But my friends from school and the exchange program and my host family say, “We are your family, too, and we are so happy to have you here.”
Emma Millis is a local 16-year-old high school student who decided to go to Sweden for the 2018-19 school year with AFS Intercultural Studies.
“My host mother and sister have taken to decorating the entire house with hearts that say “God Jul” (Merry Christmas) and placed small Tomte (Santa) figures in every room and advent calendars filled with chocolates.”