St. Lucia's Day, a winter holiday traditionally observed on December 13 in the Scandinavian countries, is getting a modern update.
The city of Malmo, Sweden has announced that for the first time ever, it will not consider gender when casting their "Lucia."
Continents and regions
Sex and gender issues
The holiday, which often coincides with the winter solstice, depicts St. Lucia -- Lucy in English -- as a young girl in a white dress and red sash, with a wreath of candles on her head.
Often, the selection of Lucia has been compared to a beauty pageant, and some have criticized officials for preferring pale, blonde Lucias. This year, Malmo is rethinking the idea of Lucia completely.
"Before, we have always asked for a female, but we decided not to do that this year. It's because we realize now that people don't always identify with a gender," Viveca Byhr Lindén, who organizes Malmo's St Lucia festivities, told The Local about the casting change.
Now, Lindén and her team in Sweden's third-largest city will choose a Lucia based on good deeds and civic engagement rather than on photos. It's fitting, perhaps, as Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.
The official announcement naming Malmo's 2018 Lucia will be made on November 30.
The move to eliminate gender as part of the choosing of a St. Lucia is just the latest step in Sweden's national efforts to reach gender equality.
The nation currently ranks fourth-best in the world for gender parity according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. It's also ranked the ninth happiest country in the world on the United Nations' World Happiness Index.
So far, at least two Swedish preschools have aimed to raise children in a gender-neutral fashion, calling all kids by a gender-neutral "hen" pronoun and mixing all toys together instead of labeling some for girls and some for boys.
The national Swedish Gender Equality Agency was established in Gothenburg on January 1, 2018. Its stated goal is "for women and men to have the same power to shape society and their own lives."
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