Lussi’s night (and celebrating Lucia in Sweden)

Lussi’s night

Lussi held up a long white robe, as stainless as troll fabric always is. But she could feel the thinning threads of magic ready to pull apart – like moth eaten wool. Her last journey over the faultlines had been such a nightmare, she hadn’t dared to cross since. And because of this, the magic of the seventh troll kingdom was now stretched thin.

Lussi had to gather up her courage to once again journey into the realm of humans, and to bring back gifts of magic. The seventh troll kingdom depended on this; a weight heavy on her old shoulders.

With a frustrated sigh Lussi hung the white robe over the wooden rocking chair by the fireplace. Herbs hung in neat rows above it, dried and full of whispers.

Her home was of a modest design, burrowed underneath an old oak tree, and a canopy of roots weaved the ceiling. The walls had been reinforced with patterns of stones she’d collected. Aside from her sitting room, there was a bedroom of enchanted plants. The bedposts were formed by twined roots and at the feet of the bed grew soft moss. From the ceiling hung clusters of a fire wisteria she’d happened upon a long time ago. Its glowing bloom tresses illuminated her bedroom softly – just enough for her to admire the other flowers growing in every nook and corner – and, of course, to welcome sleep.

A bathroom with a small cold pool sprawled next to her bedroom. All sorts of rumours circulated about trolls, and like most other creatures there were trolls of all kinds, but Lussi liked to keep herself clean. Even the bright yellow lichen growing on her skin in circular patterns appreciated good hygiene and a proper soaking every now and then.

Lussi went to stir the raspberry and bilberry caramel she was cooking in her cauldron. It was thick and sticky from simmering all afternoon, and the berry perfume filled her beautiful home. The rocking chair creaked in approval. Smiling to herself Lussi sprinkled some happiness in. Happiness, she’d come to learn, was something the many realms needed more of – and who better to gift it to than to children.

Removing the cauldron from its hook, she poured the caramel onto a platter. With her troll magic she formed the sticky, red-brown berry caramel into perfect, round balls and wrapped them in rustling candy paper.

When her basket was full, she took a bath. The cold water trickled along her skin, and she washed her long unruly hair. The cold of the water was good for her – it held her inner fire at bay.

Lussi sighed again, and reluctantly went to fetch her white robes. An old leather belt with gold and rubies held the long robe in place. Fresh green sprouted from her skull, stems of lingonberries fused with her hair. Some clusters of red berries hung in her periphery – having perked up from her bath.

Dried, dressed and ready, Lussi took her basked of caramels and with heavy steps she left her safe haven, unsure what her journey might bring. Pictures of screaming people and houses on fire flashed through her mind. If only she could warn people beforehand not to anger her – tell them that her eyes had the power to set all and everything on fire.

“I’m no evil spirit,” she huffed, feeling the pain in her heart all over again. “I just need the gifts. Please,” she added to no one in particular.

Heaving another sigh, she took the first step, and then a second. The forest surrounding her became a strange blur, the way it always did when she troll-walked to cover great distances. Then the air got thinner, until cold bit her face. The kisses of winter.

The longest night – only it wasn’t. Not anymore. But science and magic competed sometimes – when belief is stronger, magic wins. Lussi knew this as one of the founding pillars of troll magic.

The realm of humans looked similar to her own, but the air felt very different. She supposed it had to do with magic. Human kingdoms weren’t governed by magic like troll kingdoms, and so magic had withered.

Above her stars twinkled in the dark blue eye of the cosmos troll. She stared into its eye for a bit, then lit a few strands of her hair to light her way. The snow melted in her path and small spring flowers sprouted where her feet had shared both warmth and magic. The poor things would die come morning, since mid-December is too unforgiving and the sun too far away to nurse her children.

It took Lussi a while to reach the first village of family homes. The bright light coming from inside the windows surprised her. Perhaps humans had magic after all.

She rang the doorbell, again surprised to find such magic in the realm of humans, and waited.

A man opened. “Lucia?” he asked.

It sounded close enough, so Lussi nodded.

“Aren’t you a little early?” he wondered, and Lussi frowned. “Never mind,” he added, then turned and called into the house that a ‘Lucia’ had come.

Little feet padded rapidly towards the door, and suddenly three children stared at her.

“She looks a bit funny,” said the middle child, with brown tousled hair, in a sceptical tone.

“Nonsense, I love her interpretation,” said the eldest.

“Will you sing?” wondered the youngest.

“I can sing,” Lussi agreed, stunned no one was screaming. And so, she sung, an old song she’d sung to her children when they were young.

“A trolling, trolling with a long, long tail,
A trolling, trolling with a long, long tail.
He got the tip bruised, and stepped upon,
Always in the way,
Until Mother tied it into a bow.”

“Trolling, trolling,” sung the youngest child enthusiastically.

“For you, one each,” Lussi said, holding out her basked of caramels.

“Oh, candy!” the middle child called.

“This is very kind,” their father, Lussi presumed, said. “Wait.” He was gone, and then back again quickly. “Take a few buns… I got too many.”

He held out yellow buns, each folded and shaped like an s and decorated with raisins.

“Lusse bread,” smiled the youngest child, and Lussi accepted the buns as the true treasures they were. The yellow buns crackled with magic – the magic of exchanging gifts.

Lussi thanked this kind family, and they said good-bye.

In wonder Lussi went from house to house offering her caramels to young and to old, receiving ginger and lusse bread in return, sometimes even a cup of hot mulled berry wine with almonds and raisins. Many times, she was expected to sing songs or read verses, and Lussi happily complied. Old faces smiled, rejoicing in some company, and young faces lit up with curiosity. Naturally, there were houses with no one at home, but all in all, these were just a few. Folklore’s longest night ran away.

As the first rays of light pulled the curtains of the night apart, Lussi put out her burning strands of hair. Her caramels of berries and happiness were all gifted to deserving hands, and her basked was full of buns and magic. The buns smelled delicious, but they weren’t meant for eating – at least not for her. She wanted them only for their magic.

“Are ye working tonight?” asked a foul voice, as Lussi readied herself to cross the faultlines and return home. “No one works tonight.”

Lussi gave the water spirit – he who liked to strut around in the shape of a naked human man – a hard look. It was not the reaction he’d been expecting, this she could tell – especially by the way his eyebrows shot up.

And then a few pieces fell into place. She cooked her head to the side, studying him.

“You,” Lussi said. “Why do you suppose this night belongs to you?”

“Because it does. It’s the night of spirits.” The water spirit hesitated. “Well, one night of spirits…,” he amended.

“And trolls are not spirits?” Lussi questioned.

“You don’t look like a troll,” the water spirit accused.

“Well, of course not. Troll magic, see. I can’t waltz in here with lichen growing on my skin and expect people to think trolls are the stuff of myth, now can I?”

The water spirit harumphed.

“You’ve been sabotaging my work before, haven’t you?” Lussi challenged.

“I didn’t know,” the water spirit said, having crossed his arms defensively – and this spirit was said to lure women into the water. What woman would be interested in this hypocrite?

“Look closer the next time,” Lussi warned. “Or I might hex you.”

The water spirit stuttered something in agreement, and vanished quickly. No wonder humans didn’t work during folklore’s longest night. But not even the silly water spirit could put clouds on her sky – not when her basket was full. With a happy smile on her face Lussi crossed the faultlines and headed straight to the mountain where troll king of the seventh troll kingdom lived. It certainly looked like a mountain on the outside, but inside it consisted of halls and treasure.

Proudly, Lussi strolled into the throne room.

“You’ve done well,” the Troll King praised, relief on his old, marred face, his eyes shining as he took in the contents of Lussi’s basket.

“Thank you,” Lussi said, carefully placing the yellow buns into the great chest of gift magic.

“I expected ham and breadcrumbs… But this… These are made from saffron. Such gifts will last for a long time,” the troll king said.

Lussi's night, from sketch to digital art. Art by Anneli von Knorring.
Lussi’s night, from sketch to digital art. Art by Anneli von Knorring.

Celebrating Lucia in Sweden

The tale above is based on Swedish folklore. A story where Lucia (or Lussi) is a troll who can set fire to everything with her eyes. Well, I admit that I’ve tweaked it a bit 🙂

Lucia is celebrated on the 13th of December with people dressing in white bringing light, songs and ‘fika’ (lusse buns and coffee). The root of this tradition is a hot topic, and no one knows – or will ever know exactly. Lucia has been celebrated in many different ways – some almost similar to present-day Halloween celebrations.

Lucia has many faces too – all from being an evil spirit to a saint, which is quite a span. The way we celebrate in Sweden today, is only about one hundred years old or so – and even then, this tradition has varied greatly throughout our country.

The longest night of the year occurs at the winter solstice, but before the calendar reform in Sweden in 1753 this was said to be the night before the 13th of December. Just like Midsummer’s night is considered a night with thin borders and what not, so is the night before Lucia. Even if the true winter solstice has been moved to around the 21st of December, in Swedish folklore the night between the 12th and the 13th of December was still something to be wary about. Spirits were out, and the water spirit (Näcken) was especially aggravated if he found people working during this night.

What I love about celebrating Lucia is that somehow this captures the Scandinavian mystery and myth, the deep dark forest, a spirit travelling from far away into our world to bring light. The melancholy songs sung by clear voices, like a soft echo throughout the winter landscape.

Wishing you a nice Lucia,