Continuing our Christmas world tour, the holidays are celebrated a bit differently in Scandinavia.
St. Lucia’s Day is obscure in the U.S., but in Sweden, the Dec. 13th holiday is one of the high points of the season. It’s based on the myths surrounding a fictional woman named Lussi (who is a completely different person than the saint the day honors), a Norwegian witch who associated with trolls, monsters, and other bad guys. According to legend, every Dec. 13th, she’d hop onto her broomstick and go looking for people to torment.
Supposedly, Lucci would attack any household that wasn’t properly prepared to celebrate Christmas. Those that didn’t decorate or place a cross on their door could expect to have the witch steal their livestock, break windows, or even kidnap their children. In Norway, some folks still observe the tradition by hiding their brooms every Dec. 13th; college students, meanwhile, party all night.
But over in Sweden, St. Lucia’s Day is a more somber (and sober) holiday. Many celebrate by cooking or eating Lussekatt, a baked saffron-flavored bun. To honor the saint instead of the nasty witch with a similar name, each community nominates a young girl to portray her. The girl wears a white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles while parading through the streets. She’s followed by other kids dressed in white who sing songs about the saint.
While these processions are beautiful to behold and have become increasingly popular all over Scandinavia, they’re not what you would call “fun.” Enter the Yule Goat. Most Swedes observe this tradition, which is based on an old folk tale, by placing a small goat ornament made out of straw in their Christmas trees. Back in 1966, the town of Gävle made the mistake of constructing a giant Yule Goat to help promote tourism. It was burned down by arsonists on New Year’s Eve and a new tradition was born. Every year, the city builds a goat and does its best to defend it from vandals. Sometimes they succeed but, more often than not, the goat is destroyed.
Over the years, various “Gävle Goats” have been burned, knocked over by cars, or tossed into rivers. One year, the goat was given a 24-hour security team. One night, when temperatures dropped below freezing, the guards ducked into a nearby cafe to warm themselves with liquor. No sooner had they placed their order than an arsonist set the goat aflame.