Scandinavians celebrate St. Lucy & reaching South Pole

St. Lucy’s Day & 100th anniversary of Norwegian Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole.

Rooney Mara as the new tattooed girl.Scandinavians have a lot to celebrate this holiday season! Culturally, their murder mysteries are the toast of American literary circles. The New York Times continues to celebrate the genius of the late Stieg Larsson, even as American moviegoers await the opening of a new English-language movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. An earlier trilogy of movies in Swedish, starring Noomi Rapace, already has been released on DVD and Blu-ray and Larsson’s tattoo novels have sold millions of copies in English. A long NYTimes story on Sunday raved about filmmaker Dennis Fincher, who created this new English-language movie from the Larsson stories, starring Rooney Mara. Now, a whole array of other Scandinavian murder-mystery writers have crossed the Atlantic to find eager audiences in English.
So, Scandinavia is red hot for murder, these days!
But this week brings two more traditional Scandinavian milestones …

Greet St. Lucy’s Day with Lights and Delicious Cookies

ST. LUCY’S DAY PROCESSION. Wikimedia Commons.TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13: Even American children, who read picture books or enjoy TV specials about Christmas traditions around the world, are familiar with this vivid image: Around St. Lucy’s Day, a beautiful Scandinavian girl appears wearing a wreath of greenery and lit candles atop her head.

Older girls who enjoy the imaginative realm of American Girls—the books, dolls and accessories—are familiar with Swedish-American Kirsten Larson, who wore the candles and played the role of St. Lucia in her family’s celebration. If you’re looking for a copy of that specific Kirsten book, it’s called Kirsten’s Surprise, the front cover shows Kirsten decked out for the holiday and it’s now available from Amazon. 

The “real” St. Lucy was an early Christian martyr to the Roman campaign of anti-Christian terror prior to Emperor Constantine’s decision to encourage Christianity. (Traditional accounts say she died about 304 and Constantine’s Edict of Milan came in 313.) December 13 is her official feast day for Christians worldwide, but she really is a unique star in Scandinavia. Given Scandinavia’s Protestant history and general secularism, St. Lucy literally shines as a bright light among saints in this region. She is one of few saints still widely recognized in Scandinavia, although her feast-day customs now are mingled with pagan roots of winter festivals and other fondly celebrated cultural lore. For example, Scandinavian culture once identified Dec. 13 as the darkest and longest night of the year. (Modern calendars place the Winter Solstice later, of course, but St. Lucy’s Day still has that mid-winter association for Scandinavian families.)

ST. LUCY BUNS: Among the other popular customs still observed in many communities are the baking and distribution of St. Lucy Buns, a traditionally shaped pastry made with raisins and saffron. Global Gourmet has a yummy Lussekatter recipe you’ll enjoy.


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14: Sometimes, good guys do finish last—even when they finish first. That’s certainly true of the first explorer to reach the South Pole: Roald Amundsen, who tapped his foot on the spot December 14, 1911. Across Scandinavia—and across the UK as well—people are abuzz about this centennial. Here in the U.S.? You’d be hard pressed to find much public interest in the midst of the all-Christmas holiday tidal wave.

Roald Amundsen is most famous for launching a South Pole Expedition that wound up becoming a “Story of the Century” when it turned out that two teams were vying for this goal—and the British team under Capt. Robert Scott tragically died on their return trip. Not only was Scott beaten to the global distinction by Amundsen, but his heart-breaking story of perishing in an ice-enclosed camp was preserved in Scott’s diaries. In the U.S. after these events came to light and Scott’s diaries were recovered, silent filmmakers produced cinematic versions of the tragedy, books for adults were published and even picture books for children about Scott’s misadventures were produced. How could Amundsen hope to compete with that bittersweet popularity? In the UK this week, the newspaper The Independent says it all in a headline about the Amundsen centennial that proclaimed: Everybody Loves a Winner, but We Like a Trier Even More. The British are abuzz about the whole centennial story because the BBC has been broadcasting a multi-part mini-series about polar exploration, pegged to stir public interest in the Scott centennial in March, 2012. (The Brits won’t be marking the centennial of Scott’s crossing of the South Pole; rather, they’ll mourn his icy death on March 29, 2012, at the age of 43.) Although the main British interest is in Scott, the Independent also also published a fascinating story and photos about Amundsen’s region of Norway.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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