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For me, Christmas always really began with Lucia Day. From way back, I remember waking in darkness and dressing, then sneaking down to the dim warmth of the kitchen, where I would tie the smooth red ribbons of the Lucia crown under my chin. The crown was heavy, and the evergreens made it scratchy — but what a wonder it was when the candles were lit, and the light moved with me.

Wonderful as Christmas itself was, for me it was Lucia Day that was truly magic. The flaming crown, in all honesty, would have been enough to guarantee that. Yet there were other, subtler enchantments as well: the smell of cardamom, oranges, and chocolate; the glow of red candleholders against green boughs; our wistful recording of the “Santa Lucia” melody and the exuberant folk songs that followed it.

This year, for the first time, my daughter had her own crown of candles — electric ones, for safety’s sake, but still so beautiful. We lit our Swedish candles in the morning darkness; we listened to the same crackly Swedish recording that I used to listen to as a child; we feasted on Lussekatter, julekage, hot chocolate, and oranges.

And it was magic all over again.

Lussekatter (Lucia buns made with saffron and pools of butter) and Swedish candlesticks

Our Lucia Queen in front of the fire

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