Something Swedish


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Officially Swedish

There are two ways to become Swedish:

Way One:  Adapt and integrate yourself into the culture:

THE WAY YOU EAT
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THE WORDS YOU SPEAK
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HOW YOU DECORATE

HOW YOU WAIT IN LINE
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Nummerlapp

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Way two: Apply to become a Swedish citizenship

[DRUMROLL PLEASE]

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Yep – I am officially Swedish! (Culturally and legally speaking!)

Quick facts/tips:

–  After two years of living in Sweden you can change your temporary residency visa to a permanent visa by “extending” (not filing for new) about one month before your temporary expires (cannot do it sooner). This costs 1200 SEK and you must go to the nearest migrationsverket office to get a new card. LINK

– If you live in Sweden with a spouse or a sambo you can apply for citizenship after 3 years

– Other situations like work, school or refugee status requires 5 years

– Decision wait time can vary. The migrationsverket website says 8 months, but I got mine back in 2 weeks. Be prepared for the full wait since you need to send away your passport and Swedish Residency card.

– Application for citizenship is also 1200SEK

– Any trip outside Sweden for more than 6 months counts as an “interruption” and can affect your application/doesn’t count towards your time in Sweden.

– There is no language or history test to become a citizen.

– Once you are a Swedish citizen you are allowed to: vote in/be elected for Swedish elections, work as police/military,  easier to live/work/travel anywhere in Europe

– Sweden allows dual citizenship. Having dual citizenship can mean that you need to pay double “world wide” tax  (this applies to the USA).

–  After getting your decision it is up to you to get your Swedish passport at the nearest police station. For me the whole process of waiting, taking finger prints, photo, signature and payment took ten minutes, cost 350 SEK and I got my passport in 4 days.

– It is recommended to use your own countries passport when visiting your own country.

– In 2014, Swedish citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 174 countries and territories, ranking the Swedish passport 1st in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index. (Wikipedia)

If I missed anything important or you have any questions – let me know in the comments!

(all pictures in this post were borrowed aside from the two  last)


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(Not) Ice Skating in Sweden

If you ask people that have never been to Sweden what it’s like they will most likely say something about it being cold and having a lot of snow.

A winter wonderland. Picturesque landscapes of cute red houses covered in a blanket of white snow.

When I started visiting Sweden it was always in the winter and the one thing I wanted to do was go ice skating. It would be so romantic and memorable: ‘I went ice skating on a frozen lake in Sweden with the love of my life’. Upon spotting the first outdoor ice rink I saw on my first day in Gothenburg I excitedly asked my then-boyfriend-now-husband to skate with me, even if it wasn’t a lake (I was a little scared of that part anyway).

Alas, it didn’t happen.  And to this day, it still hasn’t.

It couldn’t. Because of ice skates.

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Stock Photo

Apparently it’s not easy to find a place that rents out ice skates in Sweden.  It’s just not a thing – or at least not anymore. This boggled my mind because in New York you can rent ice skates no matter where you go. It’s almost like renting bowling shoes; if you go to a bowling ally to bowl, or if you go to skating rink to ice skate, a few bucks will get you the equipment you need. They aren’t always the most comfortable or beautiful looking skates and sometimes felt a bit dirty putting them on, but they are available. Not in Sweden – at least according to what people have told me and what I have seen (more so in Stockholm, if I understand correctly, although 4/6 on this website do not provide rentals: Ice skating in Stockholm).

I have very fond memories of ice skating with friends and family at different (indoor and outdoor) rinks throughout New York. If someone is bored and looking for something fun and spontaneous to do with some friends “lets go ice skating” isn’t an option because someone would be left out (especially expats, most probably not having grown up having to own a pair of ice skates). What if someone doesn’t know how to skate and just wants to try something new without spending a ton of money? What about tourists? I had the option the buy custom made skates years ago and thought it would be a waste of money because ice skating is seasonal. And now that I’m in a country where that season is longer, I am regretting that decision. Of course there are cheaper options than buying brand new ice skates, if you are lucky enough to find your size at second hand shops like Amnesty, Röda Korset (The Red Cross) , Myrorna (Salvation army), or garage sales.

photo 2 (2)I was reading the local paper today and an article about ice skates piqued my attention, reminding me that it might be something to write about. This article is about the exclusion of children on school trips that don’t have their own ice skates. Since ice rinks in Sweden no longer provide rental skates (Because of some missing equipment according to this article) there is no way for kids to participate in fun activities with their friends and classmates if their parents don’t have the money to buy them ice skates. The best the school can do is send out a letter asking parents of other students if they have extra skates for students that don’t have any. The man in the photo decided that this isn’t enough and kids should never be left out. He set out do something about it and rallied up companies and private persons to provide ice skate and helmet rentals (to school kids only) in Halmstad once again.

I think it’s a good start.


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Biking

The first thing I noticed when I first came to Sweden was all the bikes. Everywhere. I’ve seen more bikes than people. I’ve seen people talk on the phone, text, smoke and walk their dogs while on their bikes. It was clear to me that in order to ever truly become integrated into Swedish society, I would need a bike. I even got asked multiple times, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ as if walking just doesn’t cut it.

Sweden is a very health and environment conscious country, center stage being the strong biking culture.

This commercial was just released by our county explaining that people who bike are superheros:
(Translation:
~ Halmstad is a biking town.
~ 21% of Halmstad residents travel via bike.
~ We have 21 (swedish) miles of biking trails. [= 210 kilometers = 130 miles ]
~ We are building super bike lanes
~ Everyone who bikes is a superhero)

It took a year, but last year I finally loaned a bike from my in-laws and have been riding it nearly every time I go anywhere.

Even though I’ve been able to ride a bike my whole life, this was different. Biking to commute to work/school or when you go to a friend’s house or when you go grocery shopping is a lot different than riding your bike around the block for fun as a kid or to exercise as an adult. In NYC you don’t see too many bikes, it’s simply not a common way to get around. It’s as if I had to relearn how to ride: bike lanes, hand signals, traffic laws, and getting used to so many other cyclists and pedestrians. Oh how things have changed; before I started biking I had no idea. I was amazed by by husbands ability to hear the tire treads of a bike approaching from a block away. I was blissfully unaware of the high pitched yet gentle dinging of a bike bell telling me to move out of people’s ways. Bike lanes seemed like wide sidewalks. Every time a bike whizzed past me I thought for sure that I would be run over.

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Today my husband and I took our bikes out for a ride together for the first time. It was nice to bike for the fun of it instead of using it as a mode of transport. It’s truly the best way to learn your neighborhood, too. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, biking today allowed me to see more places and understand where everything is in relation to each other and the fastest ways to get around. I learned that there is a separate traffic light for bikes, which means that I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for the pedestrian one instead. Better safe than sorry though! Enjoying the beautiful Swedish weather on a nice long bike ride followed by a picnic in the park is the way to go.
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Nollning: Sweden’s School Hazing

A side effect of living near a university in Sweden this time of year is that for a few weeks it feels like living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Let me explain.

Mid-Late August means classes start back up, which means new students, which means “Nollning” takes place: a ten day “orientation.” The direct meaning  translation of “Nollning” is “Hazing” but it’s not exactly done the same way. Sure, it’s an “initiation” or “rite of passage” of new students, but there isn’t the same negative connotation to it like in the U.S. At least, not anymore, or as much as before – over the years most schools in Sweden have been making an effort to make it a more positive and fun experience.

The word “Hazing” in North America is associated to physical or sexual harassment, abuse, and humiliation to become an accepted member of a sorority or a fraternity, which is often illegal and not associated to the school.  In the worst spectrum of hazing can range from being kidnapped to being beaten, being abandoned to being forced to commit a crime. Swedish “Nollning” on the other hand means “Zeroing” because students are at the “zero” level: they have yet to start year 1 of college, they are new and don’t have friends. The idea of nollning doesn’t have the same cringe-factor as hazing, unless you consider singing and dancing competitions to be particularly cruel. There is of course a lot of being yelled at and doing somewhat embarrassing things, but from what I’ve read and seen it seems a lot more open and fun. Sure, sometimes some people take it too far like anywhere else, but the intentions are not as malicious.

Instead of being initiated into a sorority or a fraternity, Swedish students are being welcomed into the program they are studying. Nollning is an accepted tradition of the school culture in Sweden, even recognizing it as a student event: Check out photos and info HERE and HERE. Schools are organized with the official events and activities of nollning, making sure everything is safe by organizing student union pub nights, providing low % alcohol, and making sure there is crisis training in case of emergencies.

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In North America “hazing” is optional in the sense that the majority of students don’t care about being part of something extra like a sorority or fraternity, and not all of them have such rough hazing rituals. Nollning is something that many (About half) new Swedish students choose do to be a socially accepted part of the program, to have fun, make friends, and party before school begins.

In Halmstad this means seeing students walk around in overalls of all different colors, each color representing a major: Engineering, IT, Mathematics, Humanities, etc. You’ll usually spot them walking in large groups, like a flock of birds. The overalls are written on or covered with patches. Where does the Dr. Seuss part come in? It’s the colorful and huge wigs, crazy sunglasses, weird masks, animal hats, and the funny voices they have to use to talk  with (Sounds like a robotic voice). It’s a bit surreal around here for a while. There are activities and games that they play together, or competitions against other “teams” (other colors or programs) so that they become a community before school starts. If you miss Nollning it might be a little bit harder for you to make friends in your classes, having missed the “head start” bonding.

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There are “Zeros” (New Students) and Leaders (Second year students who lead the nollning) The leaders are the ones who speak with the robotic voices and wear the colorful overall outfits/masks/Wigs to hide their true identity from the zeros during the Nollning, which is revealed on the last day. Meanwhile the “zeros” wear colorful shirts, necklaces and headbands with their names written across so that everyone gets to know each other. Originally I thought it would be the opposite, since making new students dress in silly costumes seems like something under the idea of “hazing”, but it’s the other way around.

Video of some Nollning activities in Halmstad (No sound, sorry):

Having only observed Nollning from afar, if anyone would like to enlighten me a little more on the topic, feel free to share! I can’t figure out why some people have strips of different colors at the bottom of their overalls, for example. Have you seen any Nollning activities?


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Meeting and Greeting in Sweden: Handshake, Hug, or Kiss(es)?

I started writing this post almost a year ago, when it was more relevant to my newness here in Sweden and attending SFI:

When I first started visiting Sweden I wasn’t familiar with the small details of Swedish culture, like what you do when you meet someone new, or when you say hi to a friend.  I was always a little annoyed with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, because he never introduced me to people that he was talking to in front of me that I hadn’t met yet. I thought it was rude, but it was simply a difference in culture.  In NYC, It’s more common to be introduced by the mutual friend, “Meg, this is Randomname, Randomname this is Meg” handshake greetingwith pointing and gestures to indicate who is who – usually received with a wave and a smile or a handshake. It’s a lot less common to introduce yourself in NYC and comes off to be a little too forward.

In Sweden, however, you have to take it upon yourself to step up and reach out your hand and announce your name with a solid handshake and eye contact. Naturally, I never did this the first few times I visited and it got to be pretty awkward as I didn’t officially “meet” a lot of people.  Finally, I confronted my then-boyfriend-now-husband who explained it all to me. After that, I started doing it Swedish Style; introducing myself right away instead of awkwardly standing around waiting for him to do it.

Once I got over the hurdle of MEETING people in Sweden, I realized that I’ve been GREETING people all wrong. When researching how to greet people around the world, Sweden is usually not on any of the lists, because there is nothing too specific about a Swedish greeting – except maybe moderation. There is no special way to hug or shake hands that could be rude, offensive, or embarrassing. It is good to know that they generally don’t kiss on the cheek though, singlekissgreetinglike many other countries do. It wasn’t until our wedding in Sweden that my mother-in-law pointed out (in a friendly, shy and giggling way) that my family kisses on the check, which was a little strange to her and she failed to reciprocate since it’s not something normal for her. Meanwhile, this is something I have always done since being in Sweden, but it’s never been pointed out to me. Thankfully, I’m a ‘light contact’ cheek-to-cheek air-kisser which might have gone undetected or else I might have been making a lot more people a lot more uncomfortable. Towards the bottom of this interview HERE I mention it as one of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in Sweden, going around kissing stand offish Swedes who generally like their personal space; at least until you are good friends.

So, I’ve braced myself and committed to being a little gentler with my hello’s and goodbye’s, reserving hugs till I’ve built up a friendship instead of freely handing them out to people I’ve only just met – and then I started making other expat friends and had to start all over again. I never thought any of my anxiety would be over how to say hello or good bye to friends and classmates, but there it was.

The thing with being an expat is you generally tend to hang out with a lot of people from different countries, we go to school together, learn the language together, and socialize together more than I’ve ever hung out with any Swede aside from my husband. This is especially true in Sweden, as anyone new to the country is given the opportunity of free language courses (SFI) everyday. Expecting SFI to be all Swedish and Swedes, I wasn’t prepared to find so many people from around the world. I thought I was well diversified coming from NYC, but it is a whole different thing when everyone has just moved to Sweden straight from from their home countries – Iran, Thailand, Africa, Iraq, Turkey, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Romania with a light sprinkle of New Zealand, Australian, UK, Canada, and the U.S. All trying to adjust to living in Sweden, while bringing in their own traditions and cultures, such as how to greet one another.

Every country naturally has their own way of greeting friends, so I was thrown back into the whirlwind of what to do with who; not just “stop kissing Swedes”. I always try to take the other persons lead, but sometimes slip and turn a hatriple kiss greetingndshake into a panicked cheek kiss because there was a moment hesitation from both of us and I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it is a light hug, a wave, a smile, or a strong embrace depending on where someone comes from. A handshake varies from a light gentle graze or a very firm grip. In some cultures it is offensive to kiss on the cheek, and in others it is offensive not to, and then you never know how many times to do it, once twice or thrice. Throw in everyone’s effort to integrate into Sweden and no one seems to know what to do outside of their own culture groups. Greetings become a little blurry and shaky, unless you have the same traditions and already know how to handle greeting each other. For my birthday I was given  triple or double cheek kisses by some cultures, hugs from others, handshakes from the rest as they congratulated me.

Upon saying good bye to new found friends from England, Canada, and USA (Places with the same customs as myself, so this should be easy) I froze and automatically (read: awkwardly) stepped back and offered a hand shake instead of what would be a friendly wave or a hug. We stumbled through it, laughed it off and ended up hugging instead.

All in all, it’s just a funny observation of a sometimes awkward situation that maybe you’ve also experienced while learning the Swedish language along side other people learning the same thing, all from different places around the world, speaking different languages inbetween classes and bringing in all sorts of delicious food that I’ve never seen or heard of before for class parties. SFI is a unique place; a smörgåsbord of cultures all brought together to learn about one thing we all have in common: Sweden.

List of THINGS TO SAY to Greet People in Sweden

Hej! or Hej Hej! = Hey/Hi – Most common, appropriate for both formal and informal.

Hallå = Hello

Hejsan = Hey

Tjena = Hey – Less formal, between friends

God Morgon/Dag = Good Morning/Day

Trevligt att träffas!  = Nice to meet you!

Hur är det? = How is it? (Whats up?)

Hur går det? = How goes it? (How’s it going?)

Hur läget? = How are things?

Vad hittar du på? = What are you finding? (What’s are you doing/up to?)

Hur mår du? = How do you feel?

Hej då! = Good bye!

Adjö! = Bye!

Ha det så bra! = Have it so good! (Have a good day)

Vi ses snart! = See you soon!


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S.F.I _ v s _ S.A.S

I started my next step towards Swedish fluency this week – Svenska som Andra Språk, S.A.S. (Swedish as a Second Language)

All throughout my S.F.I (Svenska for Invandare/ Swedish for Immigrants) classes I’ve heard about this awesome next level of learning and how much better and more helpful it is.

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The difference between the two schools is bigger than I expected, but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other – just different approaches for different levels.

S.A.S is sort of an extension of S.F.I,  only because you must finish S.F.I first and your ability in S.F.I determines your level in S.A.S.  Confused yet?

I knew SAS would be more formal and different from SFI as soon as we had to sign rules and a study contract during the orientation:

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SFI ranges from levels A – D, and SAS has levels E – H.

SFI covers the basics of the language so that you can function at an Elementary level, while SAS is considered Middle School level.

At orientation most people (about 25) went to the “E” level and a few of us (5) skipped ahead to “F” or “G” because of recommendations from our SFI teachers – I started in “F” – which means I am skipping 10 weeks of SAS!  The “normal” pace means that class takes 10 weeks, but you can take your time or work faster, since you have the whole schedule of assignments. If you work at the “average” pace, SAS takes a total of 40 weeks, I should be done in 30, but I’m aiming for sooner!

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The biggest difference in SAS is the amount of structure – every level focuses on specific chapters of the same book, has a weekly and daily plan, with pages of assignments and  goals.

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This type of structure is not found in SFI because so many people are at so many different levels and learn at such different speeds. Until you get the basics of the language, it’s hard to work on your own, which is 90% of SAS.

My schedule went from having 4 hour long classes to 2 hour classes, which consist of a lot of “egen arbete tid” – “own work time.” It’s easy to stay on track and know what you are supposed to be doing by following the study plan, where as in SFI it was common to switch between topics, assignments, and difficulty levels from day to day in an effort to include everyone and give a wide base knowledge of the language.

SAS is more specific and more like an actual class. Instead of talking about vocabulary and spending 10 minutes explaining one word for one or two students, we read on our own and discuss “why?” and “what do you think?” together.

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We are responsible for making our own study time plan, keeping track of books we read, listing words and definitions, using given verbs in sentences, and other things that are updated daily, along side with the homework assignments. It’s my second day of SAS and I’ve already finished 4 assignments and 7 out of the 59 check points there are required to complete level F. It feels good to have an organized work plan to follow.

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Within the next three weeks we will all be reading the same book, “Marie Curie”  and discussing it on Tuesdays – with a book report at the end. My “F” class is very focused on writing, which might be the teachers method or each level focuses on a different aspect of the language (speech, hearing, reading, writing). I think reading this book will be the hardest part of the class, but I’m pretty excited to start reading something other than children’s books.

Vocabulary

Test – Prov

Grades – Betygen

School – Skolan

Study – Studera

Learn – Lär


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S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time! It’s a special holiday in Sweden that we just don’t celebrate in New York City, so I was excited to see it.

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Photo Credit: Recepten.se

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the  Recepten.se recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.

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This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.

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Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.

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Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.

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St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.

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Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

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It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!

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