Column: St. Lucia celebration brings taste of Sweden to campus

By Martha Spalding

Natten g†r tunga fj„t, runt g†rd och stuva.

Kring jord som sol’n f”rl„t, skuggorna ruva.

D† i v†rt m”rka hus, stiger med t„nda ljus,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

For anyone with a Swedish background, these lyrics bring to mind white attire, glowing candles, gl”gg, lussekatter – a traditional Swedish baked good – and of course, a mind-numbingly familiar tune.

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    In most Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia is celebrated Dec. 13 with a morning ceremony in which one girl wins the coveted honor of Lucia, traditionally carrying a circle of real, lit candles atop her head, although now most of the candles are electric. The chosen Lucia is then followed by a procession of other girls and boys, t„rnor and tomtar/stj„rngossar, respectively, all singing the namesake song.

    Although my dad’s side of the family is 100 percent Swedish, my only experience with St. Lucia festivities is through the University’s Scandinavian Program. Every December the program has a Lucia celebration in which students enrolled in Scandinavian classes and local Swedish residents gather together to celebrate one of Sweden’s most beloved holiday traditions.

    As a student taking Swedish language classes, I attended the celebration last year and made my debut as one of Lucia’s handmaidens. Instead of wearing the crown of candles, I carried one candle surrounded with lyrics so I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself in front of all the community members.

    After all of the other Swedish Christmas carols were sung, I fell in love with gl”gg, a deliciously warm, alcoholic beverage. It’s like red wine, only better. I filled up my plate with delicious home-baked Scandinavian goods and refilled my gl”gg cup at least five times. I sat with the rest of beginning Swedish cohorts and we attempted to make conversation in Swedish using our rudimentary skills and soaked up the entire evening. With the distinctive singsong melody of the Swedish language floating about our ears, it was great to feel, if at least for a few hours, that we weren’t in Champaign.

    This year, I plan on once again attending the celebration with my boyfriend, who is a native of Sweden, and my increased knowledge of the language. Perhaps I’ll even engage in a non-English conversation or two.

    While everyone may not have the same appreciation or interest in Swedish culture as me, I still think everyone should come this weekend to enjoy the festivities. You can meet me, local Swedish residents and enjoy an authentic Scandinavian tradition without traveling 4,000 miles.

    At least come to enjoy the gl”gg.

    Lucia celebration 2008

    A traditional Swedish holiday celebration with lots of singing, drinking and eating.

    Everyone is welcome to attend the celebration, you just need to make a reservation.

    If you want more information about this year’s Lucia celebration or the Scandinavian Program, e-mail Anna Stenport, director of Scandinavian Studies at the University, at [email protected].

    Make your own gl”gg:

    • 1 1/2 cups brandy
    • 1/2 bottle red wine
    • 4 whole cloves
    • 2 cardamom pods (crushed)
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1/2 cup raisins
    • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tsp. brown sugar

    Combine everything in a saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar.

    Once heated, thoroughly reduce heat to low. Serve warm.