Sweden’s Lucia Celebration

At the darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning on December 13th. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage.

Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking.

One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.

The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brought to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread.

Not only does Lucia represent tradition, but there is also a symbolic meaning. Never more important than this year when the world is in turmoil. So remember, it might be cold and dark right now, but after the darkness comes the light.

Songs about Sweden 7: Stockholm

There is an iconic song in Swedish about the capital city of Stockholm. The reason it is iconic is that everybody has heard it once a week for almost 30 years, throughout the summer. It is the opening song of the unceasingly popular 8-episode summer TV show Allsång på Skansen.

The song is called ’Stockholm i mitt hjärta’ and translates as ’Stockholm in my heart’. It was released by singer Lasse Berghagen in 1992, and written to celebrate the inauguration of Stockholm’s mayor that year.

The program Allsång på Skansen has had many hosts. Lasse Berhagen hosted the show between 1994-2003. He is one of Sweden’s most loved national treasures. The program is currently hosted by popular singer Sanna Nielsen.

The program is a live stage show with various artists singing and performing. The crucial element is the audience sing-a-long, the ‘allsång’, where even the viewers at home are encouraged to join in and sing the lyrics that are published on the tv screen.

The whole show is broadcast from a hilltop overlooking the city’s harbour. With Stockholm as a majestic backdrop, it is easy to see why the city is ‘in everybody’s heart.’

Songs about Sweden 6: Gothenburg

Don’t feel sorry for me, Gothenburg’ is a very popular song by Swedish artist Håkan Hellström. In Swedish, the track is called ’Känn ingen sorg för mig Göteborg’. It was released in 2000 on his solo debut album of the same name, selling platinum in Sweden.

Håkan Hellström is one of the Swedish artists who can sell out concerts in venues that hold 75,000 people. Very few other singers epitomize Gothenburg quite as much as Håkan, and the song has become synonymous with the singer and Sweden’s second city.

What other songs do you know that are about Sweden or a Swedish town?

Songs about Sweden 5: Skåne

Ok I might have had to dig deep to find a song about the southern-most county of Sweden – Skåne. The classic song, from 1970, was a hit for legendary singer Siw Malmqvist, who is currently 85 years old.

The song called ‘Ingenting går upp mot gamla Skåne’ translates as ‘Nothing compares to good old Skåne’ and talks about how we love the place where we born. In the case of this song, Siw Malmqvist sings specifically about her home town of Landskrona.

Songs about Sweden 4: ‘Sverige’ (Sweden)

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

In 2002, the Swedish rock band Kent released a ballad called ‘Sverige’ (Sweden). it quickly shot up the charts and has, since then, become a popular track praising this country in the north. Many people feel that the song should be Sweden’s national anthem.

The song, written by Joakim Berg, includes a chorus with lyrics such as, ‘Welcome, welcome here, whoever you are. Whatever you are.’

In the last 20 years, the song has been covered by many other Swedish artists and continues to be successful in the Swedish charts.

Songs about Sweden 3: ‘Sweden’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

The Northern Irish band, The Divine Comedy, headed by the singer Neil Hannon, released in 1998 the song ‘Sweden’. This bizarre song is about how the singer would like to retire to Sweden when his work is done.

The song includes lyrics such as ‘I am gonna live in Sweden. Please don’t ask me why. For if I were to give a reason. It would be a lie.’

Songs about Sweden 2: ‘Stockholm tonight’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

The second is a song in Swedish called ‘Stockholm inatt’, which translates as ‘Stockholm tonight’. The original song was released in 2007 by artist Peter Jöback, and is about a night out in central Stockholm. The lyrics take in classic locations and venues in the city.

However, it was covered in 2021 by soul singer Cherrie in a tribute show where artists interpret each other’s songs. She modernized the lyrics and placed the song partially in the suburbs of Stockholm. This re-working gave the song a huge renaissance, and a hit for Cherrie.

Songs about Sweden 1: ‘Gothenburg’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

First out is the song ‘Gothenburg’ by Maia Hirasawa. This 2007 single is from her debut album ‘Though I’m just me’ and is a tribute to Sweden’s second city.

Maia Hirasawa went on to become a prize-winning artist with several albums to her name. She tours regularly, and in October will be on tour in Japan, her father’s homeland.

Sweden’s most famous Gay

Today, 2 July, marks 15 years since the death of the Swedish actress, singer and femme fatale Git Gay. Born in Karlshamn in 1921, she went on to become one of Sweden’s most popular and notorious prima donnas.

A classically trained concert pianist, Git Gay made her name as an extravagant review artist and larger-than-life tv host. She was given her stage name in 1949 by review artist Karl Gerhard, who undoubtably thought it was more showbiz than her real name Birgit Agda Carp.

By the end of her career, she had appeared in many films and shows as well as recorded numerous records, and the name Git Gay was synonymous with glamour and glitz. In fact, the word ‘kalaspingla’, roughly meaning party babe, is said to have been of her making.

After her death, in accordance with her will, a foundation was set up in her name to give cash awards to working Swedish musical and theatrical artists. The last award was given in a grand gala, Git Gay style, in 2018.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish midsummer

With Midsummer arriving tomorrow, it is time to start planning for your survival. Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers. As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself.

Since we are not fully out of the pandemic, it is important to wash hands regularly and keep a physical distance. Apart from these guidelines, here are a few more hacks to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is to stand 1-2 meters away, look directly in their eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. You might even give a small wave or shake hands if you are comfortable doing so. If you are feeling adventurous, follow up your ‘Hej’ with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the strawberry dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive these activities, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the many babies in Sweden are made on this day. It you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be super sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. One of the warmest ever! But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes. Remember to use hand disinfectant before you attack the buffet.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs. Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden.

Glad Midsommar!

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