Lussinatta, or Lussi Night, is a Swedish custom that I find completely fascinating. Today, it is celebrated on the night of December 13th, the Feast Day of St. Lucy. Young girls vie to be selected to represent their schools or towns as Lucy, bedecked in a white robe with red sash and a wreath of greenery and white candles crowning her. This is, of course, a far cry from its heathen roots.
Under the custom, Lussinatta fell on the darkest night of the year, the solstice. Partly due to calendar changes with acceptance of the Julian then Gregorian calendars, the date shifted from roughly the 21st of December to the 13th. It is suspected that the Catholic Church worked to associate the old heathen custom with their St. Lucy partly because of the similarity of sounds and both relate to light.
The Lussi is said to be a terrible witch or monster who rides forth on this night with a host of trolls, ghosts, and goblins called the Lussiferda to cause all sorts of mischief and trouble. It is said to be extremely dangerous to be caught outside from Lussinatta until Jul. This is clearly related to the Oskorei, the Furious Host, which is also known as the Wild Hunt.
In an interesting parallel to modern Santa Claus stories, the Lussi is said to come down the chimney late at night to snatch away poorly behaved children. Additionally, if a family had not properly prepared for the winter season, and Jul in particular, she is said to punish the entire household for their laziness. This has a parallel with some lore pertaining to Frigg in Scandinavia or Holda in Germany punishing the entire house for not finishing the preparations in time. Lussivaka, the tradition of staying awake all night to ward the house and family against evil, is practiced today as an all night party that ends at sunrise.
Some areas, particularly Västergötland, focus on a male creature called the Lussigubben. In Swedish, an affectionate term for an old man is “gubben.” If we understand the Lussi to be Frigg, then it would stand to reason that the Lussigubben is Odin, particularly associated with the wild hunt of the Furious Host.
In Värmland, a slightly different tradition is attested to by Erland Hofsten in an unpublished manuscript from the early 1700s about a feast and offerings made outside. No detailed description of events remains but Hofsten believed this had heathen origins. E. Fernows wrote about similar practices in 1773. Where Hofsten talked about the practice among the commoners, Fernows talked about how the wealthy practiced this feast.
The appearance of St. Lucy today appears to be related to other customs from Värmland. C. Fr. Nyman wrote about a trip in 1764 about a custom that was previously unknown to him. In his unpublished work he describes an early morning visit from a girl dressed like the description given earlier, accompanied by singing, who came to his bedroom door with food, drink, and other assorted items. It isn’t until 1820 that the first depiction of the candles on the head is documented, however.
Celebrating Lussinatta Today
While the contemporary Lussinatta customs are heavily Christianized, I see no reason to abandon the customs and traditions that have been passed down to us. They just need a little tweaking to revive their heathen spirit!
Instead of celebrating it on December 13th, I prefer to return it to its proper place at the solstice. This does, of course, require a little understanding that the Lussi is probably not a witch or monster but Frigg herself. I also believe that it should be a feast filled with light, particularly to light Sunne’s path through the darkest nights of the year and help guide her back to us.
If you should hold a blót or sumbel during this time, it would seem reasonable to me to have the blót lead by a young woman or older girl dressed in a white gown, wearing the signature read sash and wreath crown. If you are holding a sumbel, the horn bearer could be dressed in the same attire. If you wish to have the lit candles, I recommend looking into one of the many battery operated crowns with electric lights. It’s much safer than lit candles on their heads!
In the morning, it would be in accordance with some of the Lussinatta customs to have the women and girls serve freshly baked (or at least heated in the oven) lussekatter, a kind of saffron bun, for breakfast.
With a little research and imagination, I’m sure you can come up with other ways to revive the heathen nature of this ancient and truly special custom.