My oldest boy and I came to Sweden twenty-nine years ago yesterday. The day after, we were immersed in Swedishness as we were invited to a Lucia party. I was sort of prepared because I had read some textbooks and fiction, while my poor son must have been thoroughly confused by all these girls wearing their nighties with red ribbons and electic lights on their heads. On the other hand, life was confusing as it was, one more weird experience didn't change much.
Next year, Sergej was given a large role for the Lucia celebration in his school. The teacher said he was the only one in his class who could memorise the lines (Russian school training!). School Lucia in Sweden always takes place inhumanly early in the morning so that the parents can come and relish before they go to work. In his next school, Sergej used to choose a less conspicuous role of a gingerbread man.
I made Julia's first Lucia dress, and Anton inherited the tomten costume from someone. The gender roles were unquestionable, at least in pre-school. Every year, we got up an hour earlier on the 13th, took the kids to preschool, sat on uncomfortable benches, listened to horribly oversimplified Christmas songs and were treated to weak, lukewarm coffee with gingerbread that the kids had baked. Yet every year I started crying, because I love traditions and I was happy that my kids were part of a tradition that they didn't have to keep a secret (unlike me with my secret Christmases in Russia). When the kids grew up a bit, I would prepare a tray in the evening for them to bring into our bedroom next morning, with coffee and gingerbread. We pretended to be asleep and allowed to be awakened by song. Year after year, and eventually Anton and Julia both went to a school with great musical traditions with a specially written Nativity play, and I cried when I saw the procession moving down the church aisle. No oversimplifications, and a real multivoice choir.
By the time the grandchildren started in day care Staffan and I had had our share of uncomfortable benches and lukewarm coffee, so I don't miss it. I didn't quite expect Staffan to enter the bedroom this morning with candles on his head and a tray with coffee, but I wouldn't have been amazed if he did. He never stops surprising me.