Thursday, December 13, 2012

The World of Oleanna: Luciadagen

St. Lucy with her eyes on a plate. Gruesome!
St. Lucia's day, December 13, is observed throughout Scandinavia, but particularly in Sweden and Norway. The only other saint's day observed in Norway is St. Olaf, who codified Christianity in the country in 1024; he was Norway's king from 1015-1028 and was canonized in 1164.

The observance of St. Lucia (Luciadagen) fell out of favor in Norway after the Reformation, well until after WWII. And though Oleanna and her family probably didn't observe Luciadagen, it's just such a lovely thing, I couldn't help but share. 
Lucy was a 3rd century virgin and martyr in Sicily, the patron of blindness (as her eyes were put out), whose name means "light". So why on earth would Scandinavian countries embrace the celebration of a 3rd century saint?

As with most celebrations and feast days, the history is more complicated. Here's a nice, concise background on the historical observance of Luciadagen from My Little Norway:
St Lucia Day was introduced to Norway when Christianity spread over the country in the late 1000s. This day became a mark on the farmer’s primstav – a wooden calendar stick.  
With the elements from Catholic faith mixed with ancient traditions, Lucia being confused with Lucifer and with the use of the Old Julian calendar which made the 13th of December the darkest day of the year, came the tradition of Lussi langnatt (Lucy Longnight).  
As such, Åsgårdsreia (Asagard parade – a trail of unsettled dead souls) became a tradition. The restless souls would travel from farm to farm seeing if people were preparing for Christmas.  If the people weren’t the lost souls could vandalize the farm. Also, people who were not preparing for Christmas could be abducted into the trail. To protect themselves people would paint tar crosses above doors of houses and barns.
Isn't it a beautiful tradition?
The tradition morphed, and the darkness of Lussi (Lucifer) was said to be chased away by the light of Lucia.

Luciadagen stayed alive in Sweden, but died out in Norway after the Reformation, and wasn't re-adopted by the Norwegians until after WWII.

Thus, it's not a day Oleanna and her family would have observed, but the generations of Myklebosts that preceded her on that farm on the banks of lake Jølster surely would have.

So, how do Scandinavians observe Luciadagen today? In Sweden it is quite an important celebration, with both public and private activities, while today in Norway the focus is on schools.

Traditionally, the eldest girl in a family would get up early on December 13, donning a white robe and a crown full of candles, then serve her parents Lucia buns (Lussekatter) and coffee or mulled wine.

These days, the observance centers around schools. There is a Lucia selected, and the other girls are her "maids", and the boys are "Star boys". They process through their school and sometimes town, singing the Sankta Lucia song, and taking  Lussekatter to places like senior centers and nursing homes, bringing light in the middle of the dark days of December.

Here's a fantastic recipe for Lussekatter. They're delicious warm with butter, and though it's probably not traditional, some lingonberry jam. There's very little that can't be improved by lingonberry jam.

I hope you have a Luciadagen filled with light, hope, and delicious treats :)

For more information:
New Advent catholic encyclopedia


  1. Great post Julie. The eyes in the dish made me smile, as St Lucy still has hears to gaze heavenward. Wonder whose they are?!

    1. Thanks! And yeah, that makes me chuckle every time I see the image. How *is* she looking heavenward? :D

  2. Hi Julie

    I have just started reading your book about Oleanna, and looked up your website. It is great to get so much information on the background of the book, and then read the book itself. It wasn't like that in the times before the internet :-)

    I thought I'd just make a few comments:

    There are in fact more saint's days than Lucia and Olsok which are still observed, in some way or other, and in varying degree in various parts of the country. Often, like Lucia, there is a mix of heathen and Christian content in the celebrations.
    Olsok is not celebrated where I live (Sunnfjord/Nordfjord coast), other than that we know about the date, and there is an olsok sermon in church if it happens to be on a Sunday. In Trondheim, around the cathedral, it is big of course, and also in some other places which are tied to some deed or other that St Olav performed.

    Jonsok, (John the Baptist), which coincides with the midsummer celebration, is still big here with midnight bonfires, mock children's weddings, noisy parades, and games. It is celebrated in some form all over the country.
    Where I grew up (Sunnmøre), they also still celebrate Syftesok (St Svithun)with sour cream porridge and sometimes a bonfire, - especially if it was too wet to light the jonsok bonfire a week earlier.
    Seljumannamesse has been revived in recent years, with celebrations located to the remnants of the Selja kloster.

    Other days are also remembered, if not celebrated, - especially those which are tied to weather signs (like your groundhog day). It is an interesting topic.

    Looking forward to finishing the book.

    1. Hi Eldrid,

      I'm so pleased you stopped by! Thank you so much for the information (and clarification) on the other saint's days.

      I would love to hear more about the weather-sign days, and once you've read the book (thank you!) if you think there's anything from a Norwegian perspective that I missed or didn't get exactly right. If you don't mind, and have time, I would love if you would email me! juliekrose at gmail dot com

    2. Will do :-) I am still in June 1905.

      I saw that you wrote about jonsok further into the blog, - I got so caught up I forgot to go to bed yesterday ;-)

      A little clarification on olsok: it is celebrated on a national level, with most of the activities/arrangements centered around the cathedral in Trondheim. But it is not a folksy celebration like jonsok (or 17.mai) when nearly everybody will do something or other to mark the day, depending on the tradition in the place they live.