St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

St Lucia’s Day in Sweden: Bringing Light in the Winter Darkness

Luciadagen, or St. Lucia’s Day,  is a special day in Sweden that is celebrated annually on December 13th. Also known as the Festival of Lights, St. Lucia’s Day occurs one week after St. Nikolaus’ Day. It is a wonderful tradition that is meant to bring light into the darkness of the long Scandinavian winter.

On St. Lucia’s day you will see thousands of young girls emerge from the darkness of a Swedish winters day and gently silence the crowds with a procession of light. Dressed as Lucia’s maidens, in flowing white gowns, each girl holds a candle and wears a wreath of glowing candles in her hair. Children solemnly proceed through cities, towns and churches, giving out saffron buns and singing Lucia’s beautiful melodies, dressed as gingerbread men, elves and stjärngossar.


In Sweden, the winter solstice was formerly observed on December 13th (in accordance with the old Julian calendar). The date marked a pagan festival of lights in honor of the shortest and darkest day of the year–a time when it was believed that demons and spirits would plague the earth and animals could talk (not unlike early celebrations of Halloween). The threshing and slaughtering were expected to be done, as people braced themselves for the start of winter.

With time and the spread of Christianity, however, the Swedish winter solstice became enmeshed with the figure of Saint Lucia, and December 13th became a celebration in her honor–complete with costumes, music, processions, and glogg. 

Several legends exist to explain Saint Lucia’s martyrdom. In one version of events, young Lucia would sneak away during the night to bring food to starving Christians hidden in the catacombs of Rome. Traveling the dark tunnels, she placed candles in a wreath around her head, so she might carry as much food as possible to those starving underground. Eventually she was discovered and was put to death.

Swedish lore builds on the story of her death, telling the tale of a winter that brought terrible famine to Sweden. On the dark, bitter night of December 13th, a ship approached across Lake Vannern. The starving Swedes gathered on the shore to watch the ship approach and saw in the distance a woman dressed in white, standing at the helm, the light of the ship encircling her head with a gentle glow. Familiar with the Italian lore of Saint Lucia delivering food to the destitute Christians, the villagers believed she had come to rescue them from certain death.

The modern tradition of observance began in the 1700s and involves the eldest daughter in a family dressing up as a Lucia in a white dress with a red sash, and wearing a wreath of candles on her head (today, electric candles are often used). The Lucia’s crown is made with lingonberry branches, which are evergreen. The crown, together with the candlelight it carries, symbolizes the celebration of light in darkness, enduring through the long winter’s night.

The Lucia is accompanied by handmaidens, who each carry a candle, and star boys, who wear pointed paper hats and carry stars. The processions of the Lucia, handmaidens, and star boys typically end with a rendition of Santa Lucia (several Swedish variations exist of the Neapolitan tune), and often the Tipp Tapp song. Prior to the 1700s, when the Swedish population was still quite rural and agrarian, celebrations were far less formal. Children dressed up and went door to door singing, and receiving snacks and snaps in exchange.

Each year, Lucias are chosen in schools, offices, and towns–there is even a national Lucia chosen to be drawn around in carriage, visiting hospitals and senior homes. Though the holiday is most closely associated with Sweden, it is also celebrated in parts of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia. Some believe Lucia travels by donkey distributing presents, and children will leave a sandwich for the two travelers, just as many children across the world leave cookies and milk for Santa. To accompany celebrations, lussekats (a sweet saffron bun) are eaten in the morning, while in the evening, ginger biscuits accompanied by the mulled wine glögg.


In the video below, you can hear the song that is traditionally sung during St. Lucia processions throughout Sweden. It is extraordinarily beautiful.

This St. Lucia’s Day may you and your family be both bearers and witnesses of light within the darkness. God Jul!


Tasty Traditions: Scandinavian Glögg (Spiced Wine)

Tasty Traditions: Scandinavian Glögg (Spiced Wine)

Scandinavia is known for its frigid temperatures and shortened daylight hours during the winter time. It’s no wonder that the traditional mulled wine drink, Glögg, is a favorite during the coldest season of the year. Scandinavian Glögg (pronounced glook) is served warm, and is a great way to unwind after a long day spent outdoors in this wintry wonderland.

Drinking mulled wine dates back a long time in history and to begin with spices were added to less complex tasting wines. Wine was first recorded as spiced and heated in Rome during the second century. Ancient Greece also was a place where spiced wine was favored. The Romans sweetened their wine and added herbs and flowers.

During the Middle Ages, mulled wine was very popular in Europe. The herbs were also thought to have healing properties and to improve health. The Swedish King, Gustav Vasa, loved Claret, which was a blend of wine Rhen, sugar, honey, and spices. Lutendrank was the favorite drink of Swedish King Erik XIV. Two hundred and ten jugs of lutendrank were produced for his coronation in 1561.

The word Glögg comes from the word Glödga, which means to heat up. The phrase “Glödgat wine” appeared around 1609. In Europe people left behind the tradition of drinking spiced wine, but in Sweden it remained.

During the 1800s, Glögg became a Christmas tradition in Scandinavian countries like Sweden. Wine merchants began making their own versions, putting the wine in bottles, labeling them, and selling them. Today around five million liters of Glögg are consumed every year during the Christmas season.

The traditional Scandinavian mulled drink mixes wine and port with spices like clove, cardamom, and cinnamon to make for a brew that smells and tastes divine!



  • Aquavit (or brandy or vodka)
  • Burgundy or pinot noir wine
  • Port wine
  • Raisins
  • White or brown sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cardamom seeds
  • One orange
  • One piece of ginger
  • Blanched almonds

STEP 1: Soak 1/2 cup of raisins in one cup of aquavit, brandy, or vodka. Soak for 30 minutes before proceeding to step 2.

STEP 2: Put a large pot on the stove, over high heat. Add one cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar to the pot, and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved.

STEP 3: Lower the heat to medium and add your spices – 2 sticks of cinnamon (each broken in half); 4 whole cloves ; 6 whole cardamom seeds, crushed by hand; a thinly shaved orange peel; and 1 small piece of ginger, peeled and cut in half. Stir again with wooden spoon. Do not allow the mix to come to a boil from this point on.

STEP 4: Add the raisin mixture, 2 cups of burgundy  or pinot noir wine and 2 cups of port wine.

STEP 5: Sweeten and spice to taste.

STEP 6: Strain, garnish with raisins and slices of blanched almonds. Serve hot off the stove.

NOTE: The drink can be made in advance and kept at room temperature. Be sure to warm it up before serving, however.

About the wine, port, and brandy. There is no need to invest in expensive wine, port, or brandy because the spices are going to preempt any innate complexity of a fine wine, but don’t use anything cheap. Remember, the sum will be no better than its parts. If you want to play, instead of brandy try using Swedish aquavit, a caraway flavored vodka popular in Scandinavia.

About the raisins. Golden raisins will work, but dark raisins are better.

About the cardamom. Cardamom comes in three forms: Pods, seeds, and powder. The pods look like orange seeds. Cardamom seed pods may be hard to find, so you may need to order them from a spice specialist like, but don’t leave out the cardamom. Cardamom is the secret ingredient. The seeds within the pods are either black or tan, about 1/3 the size of peppercorns. If you can’t find pods and can only find seeds, use about 1 teaspoon of them. Do not use powder.

About the almonds. It is important to get naked cream-colored almonds that have had the shells and brown skins removed. The skins are bitter and full of brown coloring that can give the glögg a dusty texture. Do not use salted or smoked almonds. If you can only find almonds with skins, you can remove them by blanching them. Here’s how: Boil a pot of water, dump in the almonds, wait for the water to boil again, let them boil for about a minute, pour off the water, and rinse with cold water, and drain. The skins will slip right off if you pinch them.

About the cloves. Do not use powdered cloves.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! So, sit back, relax, and enjoy a Saintly Scandinavian delight.




Iceland’s Yule Lads, a celebration of Icelandic folklore

Iceland’s Yule Lads, a celebration of Icelandic folklore

Here in North America, children are visited by jolly ole’ Santa Claus, who rewards them for their good behavior by giving them free gifts on Christmas Eve. However Iceland celebrates the winter holidays a little differently. Thirteen nights before Yule (Christmas Eve), the Yule Trolls take turns visiting Icelandic children. They leave behind sweets or rotten vegetables in the child’s shoes, depending on the child’s behavior.

Icelandic children place their shoes on the windowsill to make it easier for the trolls.

These trolls are the sons of the foul child-eating mountain trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði. Unlike Santa Claus, these trolls are not so Jolly and good-spirited. They hide sleeping in their cave for most of the year, but during December they awaken to strike fear into the hearts of misbehaving children. Alongside the trolls is the black tyrannical Yule Cat named Jólakötturinn, who will devour children who are not wearing at least one new piece of clothing on Yule (Christmas Eve). He may also eat the food of those who are lazy and do not work hard enough. My favorite Icelandic star, Björk even wrote a song about this malevolent kitty.

Each mischievous troll has his own distinct personality and habits. The famous poem Jólasveinarnir by Jóhannes úr Kötlum written in 1932, describes the individual trolls very well. Below I will quote from that poem.

The artwork below is from

The first troll is named Stekkjarstaur or “Sheep-Cote Clod.”  This little troll is known for his desire to harass sheep and for his stiff wooden peg legs.

He came stiff as wood,

To pray upon the farmer’s

Sheep as far as he could.

He wished to suck the ewes,

But it was no accident

He couldn’t; he had stiff knees –

Not too convenient.

The second troll is named Giljagaur or “Gully Gawk.” He likes to hide in the gullies waiting until he has the opportunity to steal some cow milk!

Gray his head and mien.

He snuck into the cow barn

From his craggy ravine.

Hiding in the stalls,

He would steal the milk,

While the milkmaid gave the cowherd

A meaningful smile.

The third little troll is named Stúfur or “Stubby.” He is known for being very short and loving to lick the leftovers out of your pans!

A stunted little man,

Who watched for every chance

To whisk off a pan.

And scurrying away with it,

He scraped off the bits

That stuck to the bottom

And brims – his favorites.

The fourth troll is named Þvörusleikir or “Spoon-Licker”

Like spindle he was thin.

He felt himself in clover

When the cook wasn’t in.

Then stepping up, he grappled

The stirring spoon with glee,

Holding it with both hands

For it was slippery.

The fifth troll is named Pottaskefill or “Pot Scraper.” Similar to Stubby, he will eat the leftovers out of pots instead.

Was a funny sort of chap.

When kids were given scrapings,

He’d come to the door and tap.

And they would rush to see

If there really was a guest.

Then he hurried to the pot

And had a scrapingfest.

The sixth troll is named Askasleikir or “Bowl-Licker.” He enjoys hiding under your bed until you put your bowl down. Then he will steal it and lick it!

Was shockingly ill bred.

From underneath the bedsteads

He stuck his ugly head.

And when the bowls were left

To be licked by dog or cat,

He snatched them for himself –

He was sure good at that!

The seventh troll is named Hurðaskellir or “Door Slammer.” He slams your doors throughout the night. What a noisy, annoying fellow.

A sorry, vulgar chap:

When people in the twilight

Would take a little nap,

He was happy as a lark

With the havoc he could wreak,

Slamming doors and hearing

The hinges on them squeak.

The eigth troll is named Skyrgámur or “Skyr -Gobbler.” This little buddy’s favorite food is skyr which is a traditional Icelandic dairy dish, similar to yogurt.

Was an awful stupid bloke.

He lambasted the skyr tub

Till the lid on it broke.

Then he stood there gobbling

– his greed was well known –

Until, about to burst,

He would bleat, howl and groan.

The ninth troll is named Bjúgnakrækir or “Sausage Swiper.” This mischievous little guy hides in the rafters and pilfers pork links while they’re smoking.

He climbed up to the rafters

And raided food from there.

Sitting on a crossbeam

In soot and in smoke,

He fed himself

On sausage fit for gentlefolk.

The tenth troll is named Gluggagægir or “Window Peeper.” This nosy little creature looks through your windows at night with hopes that he will find something worth stealing.

A weird little twit,

Who stepped up to the window

And stole a peek through it.

And whatever was inside

To which his eye was drawn,

He most likely attempted

To take later on.

The eleventh troll is named Gáttaþefur or “Doorway Sniffer.” He has a long nose. He uses his fantastic sense of smell to sniff around, searching for a traditional Icelandic bread called Laufabrauno.

A doltish lad and gross.

He never got a cold,

Yet had a huge, sensitive nose.

He caught the scent of lace

Bread while leagues away still

And ran toward it weightless

As wind over dale and hill.

The twelth troll is named Ketkrókur or “Meat-Hook.” This little thief uses his famous hook to steal your meat!

His talent would display

As soon as he arrived

On Saint Thorlak´s Day.

He snagged himself a morsel

Of meat of any sort,

Although his hook at times

Was a tiny bit short.

Lastly, the thirteenth troll is named Kertasníkir or “Candle Stealer.” He will stalk children so he can steal their candles and then eat them!

´Twas cold, I believe,

If he was not the last

Of the lot on Christmas Eve.

He trailed after the little ones

Who, like happy sprites,

Ran about the farm with

Their fine tallow lights.

Then one by one they trotted off

Into the frost and snow.

On Twelfth Night the last

Of the lads used to go.

Their footprints in the highlands

Are effaced now for long,

The memories have all turned

To image and song.

Stay safe from the Yule Trolls this year, and Gledileg jol, Bestu jolakvedjur med osk um gledi og frid a komandi ari! (It’s an Icelandic holiday greeting which translates to, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

~Written by: Eva