We stood outside Kungsholm's church in the dark in our overcoats - although the weather was unseasonably warm, it wasn't so warm that we didn't need overcoats. Then a man with a grey beard handed out torches to us, even to the little boys - although not to the littlest - and we lit them, and the priest began the procession through the streets to Saint Erik's chapel. We straggled along singing, and a few people stopped to look at us, but mostly we walked the eight blocks with little notice. It's amazing how Swedes will pay little attention to a curiously medieval-looking band of children and adults carrying torches and singing as they walk along the street at 5:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of Advent. (The whole Swedish Christmas-time obsession with burning lights is actually suspiciously pagan, if you ask me.)
When we got to the chapel, it was full to overflowing. Which was no surprise, considering there were 11 little boys singing in the choir, each little boy with parents and grandparents and brothers or sisters or cousins or what have you who had come to see the service. And they sang sweetly, although according to the husband they didn't all pay strict attention, and of course at least one little boy was singing about a fifth below the other little boys, and there was only one mishap when one of the little boys knocked his head against the altar and after several minutes the priest noticed that he was bleeding and his mother took him out. But we kept on valiantly - the priest referred to us men as "aspiring choir boys" - and eventually the little boy with the banged head reappeared, seemingly none the worse for the wear (little boys are pretty tough creatures).
The whole thing was quite informal, the sermon simple, the readings familiar, the candle-lighting brief and we the choir sang and sang and sang, all the favorite Swedish advent songs, with a single scoop of Vivaldi and a double scoop of Bach on top.
For someone like me, steeped in religion from childhood, it was altogether quite an appropriate First Sunday of Advent, which it seems, is second only to Lucia in terms of favorite Swedish Christmas rituals, Christmas services themselves being held way too early on Christmas morning for most people to bother with in this secular country.
The Swedish word for the day is ankomst. It means arrival.
- by Francis S.