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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Lucia, a beloved saint in secular Scandinavia

The night treads heavily around yards and dwellings In places unreached by sun the shadows brood Into our dark house she comes bearing lighted candles Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

Any Swede switching on the radio in the morning on December 13th will wake up to these words, known by heart to everybody in Scandinavia. The song is dedicated to the Catholic Saint Lucia, whose popularity, particularly in Sweden, far surpasses that of her more religious home country Italy. Lucia was an Italian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around 300 AD. In Italy, she is not forgotten, but mostly popular in the northeastern regions where she brings gifts to good children and coal to bad ones. For the Swedes however, the Lucia celebrations rival Christmas and are a source of national pride – nowhere else in the world are the celebrations more widespread and colorful.

The highlight of the celebration is the procession that takes place in kindergartens, schools and nursing homes across the country, as well as on national television. Leading the procession is a girl representing Santa Lucia, carrying a wreath with lit candles on her head, in our days more often than not electrical. Behind her follow girls with glitter in their hair and boys wearing pointed hats and carrying a starry stick in their hands. All dressed in white robes and with candles in their hands, the children walk through the dark rooms while singing the Lucia song. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take Lucia’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. They also hand out lussekatter, the special saffron-flavored buns baked particularly for this day, which seem to have little to do with Italy.

How come, one is forced to wonder, this day in memory of an Italian saint is still so vividly celebrated in the Lutheran Northern countries, where almost no other saint days are remembered? Scholars often relate this to the old popular pagan practices connected to the winter solstice. Back in the old days, December 13th was believed to be the longest night of all the year, and was by no means the joyful festivity observed today. In fact, this was thought to be a particularly dangerous night, where people would stay indoors and paint white crosses on the doors to keep evil away. In the popular imagination, today’s innocent Lucia was believed to cooperate with dark forces and spirits. According to some historians the reason might be that people were confusing her name with Lucifer.

Today’s celebrations of Saint Lucia’s Day are hardly more than a century old. The tradition of selecting a national Lucia in Sweden started with a newspaper competition in 1927, which was an attempt at reviving what was thought of as dead traditions. Later the habit of celebrating Lucia has spread to Finland and Norway. The popularity is maybe not hard to understand since Lucia is a symbol of light (indeed, the word lucia means light) which is much appreciated in the darkest season up in the north. This was given a metaphorical meaning when Lucia was officially celebrated for the first time in Denmark in 1944, as an attempt to provide “light in the time of darkness”. What was originally a protest against the Nazi occupation of Denmark has since become a popular tradition in the country.

Although the St. Lucia celebrations appear to be more alive than ever, they are faced with some challenges, even in egalitarian Sweden. Last year a Facebook group of thousands of people gathered in support of Freddy Karlstad who had been selected as Lucia by a vast majority of students at his high school in central Sweden. To his frustration, the female principle did not find it appropriate for a boy to be representing Lucia, arguing that the school wanted to celebrate the day in the traditional manner. Instead, she declared the girl who came second as the school’s Lucia, an act that became subject to both endless jokes and serious debate in Swedish media all throughout December.

Another point of discussion has been Lucia’s appearance. While the original Saint Lucia was most probably a black-haired Sicilian woman, any brunette Scandinavian can bitterly testify that blue-eyed blondes are often preferred in the Lucia elections, which are surprisingly wide spread in a country where beauty competitions in general are not too appreciated. Not only schools and kindergartens, but also villages and cities elect their local Lucias, the latter often after presenting the candidates in the local newspapers. This year the official website for the national contest states that “Lucia 2009 focuses more on Lucia’s duty than on her external beauty”. Finally the Lebanese originated, dark haired Hannadi El Assir who was among the last seven candidates in the contest lost for the more traditional long-haired blonde Sofia Högmark.

Recipe: Lussekatter (Saint Lucia Buns)Lussekatter, meaning Lucia’s cats, take their name from their special shape resembling curled up cats. No Lucia holiday can be complete without these buns which get their particular taste and yellow color from saffron.

300 ml milk1 g saffron50 g baker’s yeast150 g sugar125 g butter or margarine700 g all-purpose flour1 eggsaltraisins

-Melt butter or margarine in a pan and add the milk and the saffron. Warm the mixture to 100 F.-Pour the mixture over the finely divided yeast; then add the remaining ingredients (except for the egg and the raisins), which should have a temperature of 72-75 F. Mix into a smooth dough.-Cover the dough with a piece of cloth and let it rise for 30 minutes.-Knead the dough, divide it into 25-30 pieces and form each piece into a round bun.-Let the buns rest for a few minutes, covered by a piece of cloth.-Form each bun into a string, 15-20 cm long, then arrange the string in a suitable shape, e.g. an S or double S. Regardless of the shape, the ends of the string should meet. Press a few raisins into the dough.-Cover the “Lucia cats” with a piece of cloth and let them rise for 40 minutes.-Whip the egg together with a few grains of salt, and paint the “Lucia cats” with the mixture.

Bake them for 5-10 minutes in the oven at 475 F until golden brownish yellow.Source: www.recipezaar.com