The temperature in Sweden’s forests is sub zero, it’s slippery underfoot and thin ice is setting in swirling patterns on the lakes. There’s no scorching Meseta sun or cafe con leche around every corner and the paths are quiet and empty. Spain is thousands of miles away, yet the companionship of camino family and recalled memories of that pilgrimage to Santiago feels close.
It’s not difficult to understand that during a long Scandinavian winter, the notion of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed for hundreds of years, and most likely in pagan times too.
Everyone in Sweden recognises 13 December as Santa Lucia day and listens to a Lucia and her attendants sing the customary song which describes how the Saint triumphed over the darkness and found light. Boys in white gowns carry little lanterns and wear tall paper cones on their heads and sometimes men dressed as chimney sweeps follow the procession, brushing away the darkness.
Lucia traditionally wears ‘light in her hair’, which is usually translated these days into a wreath of electric candles, but in one performance I watched a girl walking carefully while balancing the precarious ring of melting wax. Friends who have had the honour of being a Lucia describe the nightmare of removing melted wax from their long blonde hair for hours after their performance.
Other Lucia traditions include starting the day with rice porridge – sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon – and eating saffron buns and gingerbread. It’s a happy day, a great warm-up to Christmas, and I’m still humming the Lucia song two days later.
I’m living inside a candlelit Christmas fairytale on the outskirts of Stockholm, listening to carols, sipping mulled wine and absorbing the scents of cinnamon and cloves. If this is Christmas Hysteria (my friend Helen’s description of her “condition”), I’m happy to be infected!
We specialise in recycling stones in Scotland, as our ruined churches, castles, cathedrals and crofts can testify. They each have their own unique atmosphere, some bleak and sad, others proud and magnificent even in stark destruction. But with our troubled history of battles and Clearances, few ruins feel as peaceful as Deer Abbey. This ancient site was inhabited by monks for 340 years, until Protestant reformers did their utmost to remove all traces of Catholicism from the country in 1560.
So it too has been through troubled times and most of the stone was stolen to build a mausoleum. And yet the vibes here are calm and tranquil. The monks may have been banished, but they left their mark.