"At home the daughters of the house wake their father with the traditional Santa Lucia song, coffee, homemade gingerbread and tongue-tingling saffron buns called lussekatts."
Who is Santa Lucia?
A shimmering angel who dispels the darkness of winter.
Do you believe in angels, then?
Yes, you just have to be in the right place at the right time to see them.
Where would that be?
I'll give you a clue . . . Who sang: "I believe in angels, something good in every thing I see . . . I believe in angels, when the time is right for me."?
The 1970s "Super Troopers": Abba?
Who came from?
Correct, and the day to see angels all over Sweden is Santa Lucia's day, December 13.
Do the angels appear with platform shoes and dodgy hairstyles?
No, Saint Lucia wears a simple white gown with a red silken sash and a spectacular halo of burning candles. Traditionally, she is accompanied by a group of handmaidens all clad in virginal white.
So she is a Catholic saint as well as an angel?
Yes, Lucia was a Sicilian Christian who was martyred in 304 AD by the Romans.
What is she doing so far north?
The Swedes have adopted her as a symbol of faith against adversity; light against dark . . . just what you need to get you through the long Swedish midwinter. Her saint's day is fused with their own pagan tradition of staying up on the longest night of the year to feast and ward off evil spirits.
At what time does Lucia appear?
She arrives with her procession at dawn.
Where does this take place?
At home. The daughters of the house wake their father with the traditional Santa Lucia song, coffee, homemade gingerbread and tongue-tingling saffron buns called lussekatts. Later there are morning parades in nurseries, schools, offices and hospitals.
It sounds magical; are there any celebrations open to the public?
Yes, Stockholm is your best bet. Many churches have Santa Lucia concerts during the day. Look for details and times in the local paper or the English-language What's On. I would recommend the morning concert in the German Church in the old town. The setting is perfect for a visitation of angels, the singing is a delight and many of the proud parents arrive in traditional dress.
Will I get any lussekatts ?
If you are lucky; if not, there is a great bakery and coffee house close by called Grillska Huset in Stortorget, the main square of the old town. You should also check out Ostermalms, a 19th-century food hall, full of gourmet goodies and the very best gingerbread and lussekatts.
Any other recommendations?
You could try schmoozing with the Nobel Prize winners in the Grand Hotel.
What are they doing there?
The presentations are held just three days earlier.
There is a candlelit concert in an original 1930s temperance building in Skansen, Stockholm's open-air heritage museum, in the afternoon. It is very cosy and homely, a sort of Swedish version of the Waltons' Christmas.
Are the angels all female?
Girls do seem to have the monopoly on heavenly innocence, although there is a minor role for a boy as the stjarngosse, or star boy, a Wee Willy Winkie character wearing a nightshirt and dunce cap that's decorated with stars.
And how old are the Lucias?
All ages from four to 14. Older teenagers tend to celebrate with an all-night party. You can spot them in town looking bleary-eyed with wonky crowns of tinsel in their hair.
So the tradition stops with schoolgirls?
No, there is a completely different side to the celebrations with a Santa Lucia beauty contest for young Swedish women. In the months leading up to December, photographs of wannabe Lucias appear in the local newspapers across Sweden. People vote for their favourites, who are often very blonde, and the finalists then compete on national television for the crown of Santa Lucia. It is a beauty pageant, where the winning ice queen wears a sponsored chandelier with electric candles and a full-length white fur coat.
Sounds like Abba again; where can I see the contest?
On the evening of the 13th, the adult Lucia and her runner-up handmaidens do a tour of the city in horse-drawn carriages, finishing in Skansen with a presentation and final chorus of the theme tune from a choir.
Is it any good?
It's a world away from the innocent morning magic, but as you look down on the wintry capital with a glass of hot glogg in one hand and a saffron bun in the other, the long dark nights are vanquished and you find yourself believing in angels after all.
Wings of an angel: