December 13 is Lucia Day, and the longest night of the year. Lucia is associated both with light (through the martyr, Saint Lucia of Syracuse), and also with Lucifer (through Lucia, Adam's first wife who is said to have consorted with the Devil). Although both stories are remembered, Lucia seems to have taken on, above all, the more positive role as a symbol of light in the dark Swedish winters, and as a symbol of growth for man and beast. She is a figure who emerged from obscurity at a time when light and nourishment were most needed.
Each year, a Lucia (Queen of Light) is chosen from every establishment country-wide (schools, clubs, etc). The elected girl is dressed in a white gown with a crown of candles in her hair, and she delivers coffee, cat-shaped buns ('lussekatter') and glögg. She is usually accompanied by a train of handmaidens, also dressed in white. The girls wear glitter in their hair and the boys wear tall paper cone hats decorated with stars and, while handing out the food and wine, they sing traditional Lucia carols.
Lucia elections are a seriously competitive business. A national Lucia is selected and announced on television, and every town and village has its own contenders who appear in the local newspaper some time in advance. With Sweden's staunchly socialist mentality, this process is surprisingly beauty contest-esque, but then exceptions are made on exceptional days. The winners are paraded around towns, spreading joy and song in supermarkets, factories and hospitals. The Lucia songs are commonly known, so everyone can join in. The angelic tone of children's voices and the gentle glow of candlelight make this day an emotive one.