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Centuries Old Winter Tradition Disappearing Because It’s Too Swedish

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A Swedish cultural tradition celebrated for hundreds of years, the annual candlelit Lucia procession, is dying out across Sweden several news outlets have reported.

The two main causes for declining interest in the “very Swedish”, Christian tradition is due to a more ‘outward-looking’ young generation, and that the procession is deemed insufficiently inclusive of migrants.

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Uddevalla, Södertälje, Koping, Umeå, and Ystad are this year among the growing numbers of cities and towns no longer holding the iconic cultural tradition, which has been celebrated in the same manner since at least the 18th century.

Lucia festivities are one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, with carol songs that make reference to peasant communities of old, darkness and light, and cold and warmth.

Schools, towns, and villages choose a girl to play St Lucia, a Christian martyr who was said to secretly bring food to persecuted Christians in Rome, and wore candles on her head. A national Lucia is also chosen along with regional ones, who visit hospitals and old people’s homes to sing.

Jonas Engman, an ethnologist at the Nordic Museum, said declining interest in the Lucia procession accompanies a more general alienation with traditional Swedish culture.

“Lucia is seen as a very Swedish tradition. Young people today have greater focus on [things happening] outside of Sweden and the Internet. So the Lucia [procession] is not seen as important.”

Due to its Swedish nature, Engman suggested the festival feels unwelcoming to migrants and people of migrant backgrounds.

“Is the image of Lucia to be a blonde woman? It’s a picture of what Swedishness is, that many people do not recognise in themselves. If you feel you do not fit into the picture, it is easy to feel less welcome to participate,” he told Aftonbladet.

Engman said he thinks the tradition will stay alive due to it being “so strongly associated with Christmas”. But “all traditions are changing, and maybe we’ll see a broader picture of what Lucia may be in the future”, the ethnologist added.

Martin Olsson, the organist at St. Ragnhilds Church, where Lucia candidates practiced, said festivities in Södertälje have had to be called off this year due to a rapid decline in interest in the role over the past few years.

Recalling how just a few years ago there were 40 candidates vying to be Lucia, the organist speculated that schools fail to foster interest in the tradition.

“This applies to [interest in] all of Swedish music and I think it is a combination of different things. We do not see as many Lucia processions in kindergartens, and we have fewer hours of instruction in music.

“If you do not get involved in something from childhood, why would one want to do it later in life?” Olsson asked.

Former Lucia Elin Gustafsson, disappointed that festivities in Uddevalla this year were cancelled due to lack of interest in the role, suggested this is because the procession is “associated with classical music and choral singing, which is not so popular today”.

Annika Nylén Nilsson said the Maria chain of preschools, in Södermalm, will hold festivals of light rather than Lucia processions.

This is because the traditional Lucia procession “has not been a celebration for all children”, the deputy director of the seven municipal kindergartens said.

Some parents didn’t want to provide their child with a Christmas hat and a white nightgown for the procession so the chain has now dropped Lucia festivities. Instead, a “lights festival” will take place, with refreshments for the childrens’ families.

“That families no longer need to bring things from home means that all children have equal opportunities and so the celebrations will be the same for everyone,” Nylén Nilsson explained.


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