A Light in the Darkness: Reflections on the Origins of Nordic Lucia Traditions

"Lucia" by Jenny Nyström

In the darkest of nights, she comes with the light. Today, on the 13th of December, we celebrate Lucia here in Sweden, lighting candles and eating spiral shaped buns in her honour. But what is a Sicilian Saint doing here dressed in white with candles in her hair? And what do spiral shaped buns have to do with it?

There are many theories as to the pre-Christian origins of Nordic Lucia traditions. Before the calendar reform in 1753, the night between the 12th and 13th of December was called Lussenatten in Swedish, the Night of Lusse, and it was the night of the Winter Solstice according to the old calendar. During this night, a mythic character known as Lusse travelled throughout the land in a so called Lussefärssläkta, a procession of spirits causing all kinds of havoc. In some sources Lusse is described as a troll, and others describe her as the mother of all nature spirits.  

"Freja" by John Bauer

Lucia traditions also remind me of the Vanir Vala (seeress) and Maiden of Spring, Fröa (Freya). Another name for Fröa is “Lusse” and she rides in a chariot pulled by two cats. On Lucia Day we bake buns called lussekatter (Lusse cats). Lucia is celebrated on the 13th of December and the number 13 is also associated with Fröa (especially Friday the 13th).

Or, if we lift the veil, is Lucia really related to the Celtic Spring Maiden Bridie, once known here as Braido? Another name for Lucia in Swedish is Lussebrud and she really does look like a bride, dressed in white with a red ribbon tied around her waist. Like Lucia, Bridie is often described as a young maiden dressed in white. She is a Maiden of Abundance, Bride of the Sun, and she is celebrated for coming with light, fire and the first signs of spring after a long winter.  

I am also reminded of Beaivi-nieida, Daughter of the Sun, who is described in Sámi folklore as a beautiful young maiden with shining golden hair, shining like “the sun itself,” and who has a herd of magical white reindeer. This shining maiden with her herd of reindeer has many similarities with Braido/Bridie, who is also described as being accompanied by a white cow…

If you're interested in learning more about Braido's roots in Sweden, I recommend reading this article by religious historian Kirsten Brunsgaard Clausen: Brighid's Runes in Sweden: The Völva and the Sun

Lucia buns


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