I love watching the pagan/christian celebration of Lucia on national TV, I think most Swedish people do. It’s romantic and very emotional: on an early, dark, cold morning in the midst of December, the 13th, the young members of society come with light, music and beauty to the older members of society, as well as to the newly born. It is an ancient ceremony of rebirth and renewal, and about the existence of magic and blessings in life, even in what seems to be the darkest of times. It is also a celebration of the sun, and the human capacity of handling fire – of bending the elements after our own will, like making light in abundance in the middle of Winter. The ceremony is full of ancient symbols, like the stars (pentacles) on the pointy hats of the so called “stjärngossarna” = the star boys.
Lucia, the saint who is saint celebrated, is a Sicilian martyr who sacrificed her life for her beliefs, and for not having to marry a man she did not love. Traditionally, she is a fairy or a Goddess of light, coming with light and protection for the people after the night between the 12th and the 13th of December, when the dark forces were said to be specially strong.
But pagan traditions around the winter solstice have heavily inspired the current advent traditions in Sweden, as everywhere else. The Lucia procession is a pre-christian, pagan invention, some even say that it has elements from the winter solstice celebration in Scandinavia, being a ceremony which celebrates the return of light and innocence. The winter solstice is on the 21-22 of December, making it too close to the Christian Christmas, and therefor the celebration had to be moved some say.
They might be right, but the 13th of December has for a long time been seen as the as a night when it is easier for evil and and naughty spirits to enter the realm of humans; a night when the doors between the different dimensions where wide open. For this reason it is a tradition to wake during the night between the 12th and the 13th, to be able to avoid the spirits and not come in evils claws in ones dreams. In the morning the children and youth of the society brought light, and there was singing. Probably some bun similar to the “Lussekatt”, a bun with saffran which is served on Lucia, was served already then. The bun is formed like pagan sun symbol:
Thinking about this while watching the followers of Lucia and then herself march into the cathedral of Växsjö, the Lucia celebration also becomes a quite interesting, kind of joint celebration of the mix of cultures, beliefs and ideas that we live in.
But where Are The Tomtar?
Traditionally the Swedish Lucia should be followed by a group of what we call “tomtar”, practically little gnomes who sing songs about how they sneak into the houses of the humans at night, tasting the food and having fun. They are unfortunately missing in this years Lucia celebration on national TV, probably its for the reason that my father pointed out to me: it’s in a church this year, so they skipped the “tomtar”. They probably do not find “tomtar” church-like enough. That is really a shame.
Just like gnomes in other places, Swedish “tomtar” are known to take care of humans, as well as the animals and plants who live on the farms. They also like to play, and love to get attention. It is of course important to show your respect and gratitude to the “tomtar”, especially at winter. Many people for example put out a small portion of the Christmas porridge for the house “tomte”, to show their gratitude and to motivate the “tomtar” to help them in taking care of their home and it’s inhabitants during the coming year as well.
The relationship between the house spirits and their human family is often described as a warm and loving one in the myths and the fairytales of almost all cultures. But they can also play quite some tricks on you, if you don’t watch out and take care of what you have. Without them, life tends to get really hard if you believe in all the legends. Maybe “tomtar” are not everywhere, but I have a feeling that we are really surrounded with beings which we know very little about, who live their own lives, but who often seem to help out. I find it a bit crazy myself, but there has been so many times when I have experienced concrete proof of such help. So my advice is, the next time you make some nice, hot food for yourself, share a small portion with the beings or spirits who help you – they will love it!