Today Laura is joined by Catherine Selen of the Swedish American Museum located at 5211 N Clark, here to talk with us about the tradition of St. Lucia, which takes place this Friday, December 13. The celebration comes from stories told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred and killed for her faith in the year 304 AD. The most common story told about St. Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands to carry everything.
Listen to Episode 90 with Catherine Selen!
- Catherine recently began working at the Swedish American Museum in October 2019 as Store Manager. She has been busy setting up their Jul pop-up shop, featuring holiday decor and ornaments (just next door to the museum.) She also handles all buying, stocking food, and managing volunteers for the store. She has a strong connection to Sweden, as her father was born there. She shares that her grandparents would always celebrate Julafton (Christmas Eve), where her family would exchange gifts, set the julbord (Christmas table), and sing songs. Catherine studied Swedish in college, and has a minor in Scandinavian Studies. With a professional background in retail, the Store Manager position at the Museum is a great melding of her experience and cultural background.
- And now, on to Lucia. According to old Swedish myth, Lucia night was the longest night of the year, when supernaturals would terrorize the countryside. Catherine confirms that the “lucia” were supernatural, maybe evil, beings that would come and terrorize bad and/or mischievous children. The way to keep them away was to eat a lot and put out a lot of lights. Over time, the story morphed into what it is today, with the introduction of Christianity. The Catholic St. Lucia may was perhaps originally Sicilian, but was adopted into Western Sweden culture. Catherine shares that the legend is that St. Lucia appeared to starving farmers during a time of famine with food and light on her head. Now, modern tradition commonly includes the eldest daughter of the household dressing up as Lucia with a crown of lights, with Lucia attendants and star people do a procession through the house. Then, in the morning, when it’s still dark, they bring coffee and lussekatter (saffron buns) to the parents or eldest in the house.
- The Swedish American Museum celebrates the St. Lucia tradition every year. Groups of all ages, kid, teens, and adults, come together for the Lucia procession. This year’s procession begins at the museum on Friday, December 13 at 4:45PM, processes on Clark Street, returns to the museum for a full Lucia performance, and then on to Ebenezer Church for a service, with another procession out after the service. The Lucia wearing the crown of light will lead the procession, with attendants dressed in white, as well as star people dressed in white with star cones on their heads and wands. For more information, click here.
- Catherine shares the crowning of Lucia in Sweden was similar to a pageant, with girls submitting entries to be crowned that year’s Lucia. The Lucia selected on Friday, December 13 here in Andersonville will be determined by a random lottery draw.
- Catherine and the museum hope people come away from the St. Lucia Festival with a feeling of nostalgia for those who are familiar with the tradition, but also that everyone comes together in a celebration of light and the beginning of the holiday season. If you haven’t been to a Lucia procession, come on out. It’s a wonderful and beautiful community event.
- Other Swedish holidays traditions include “tomte,” a magical creature who looks like a Santa-like gnome, and who speaks in a special language to children and animals, and is believed to live under floor boards. Tomte is actually a year-round character, believed to be present in every Swedish home and in forests, commonly depicted with blueberries and lingonberries.
- On Christmas Eve, a family must present tomte with a bowl of porridge, otherwise they will cause mischief in the home. In exchange for the porridge, they give the family gifts. Tomte is accompanied by a julbock, the straw goat that you commonly see as a Swedish Christmas decorations, which you can find in the Swedish American Museum holiday pop-up store. The julbock also brings gifts, so both tomte and julbock play a similar Santa Claus role in Sweden.
- As traditional Swedish holiday food goes, lingonberries are very popular. They are like cranberries, but smaller and sweeter. They are eaten commonly as a jam and paired with meatballs or crisp bread. It is also made into syrup, which is mixed with water or soda. Other common holiday food is lussekatter (saffron buns), rice porridge, Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, Janssen’s Temptation (a Swedish version of scalloped potatoes with anchovies). The pepparkakor cookie, like gingersnaps, are also popular and sold at the Swedish American Museum. Every Swedish home has a tin of pepparkakor on Christmas, and Catherine shares that there is a tradition associated with the cookie. If you put it in your palm and break the cookie with your knuckle and it breaks into 3 pieces, then you can make a wish.
- At the Swedish American Museum, you will find hundreds of tomte, pepparkakor, and so much more. Particular points of interest are ornaments, angel chimes, Advent lights and stars, as well as Lucia crowns available for all ages.
- Catherine’s favorite part of the holiday is the julbord – all the Christmas food. She loves the story of tomte, and fondly remembers reading the story every Christmas Eve. Lucia is a fun tradition, and she wore the crown every day of the holiday season.
- If Catherine could trade places for a day with another Andersonville business it would be Foursided. Especially during the holidays and it’s huge array of holiday ornaments, spinning trees. Or, Candyality for the sweets!
- You can celebrate Lucia this Friday, by joining us for the procession at 4:45PM at the Swedish American Museum, for more information about Lucia, you can visit the Swedish American Museum website at swedishamericanmuseum.org. For more information on how to volunteer and carry a light during the Lucia procession, please click here.