Friday, December 14, 2001

Yesterday, I was quite negligent in marking the fact that it was Lucia - the feast day of Saint Lucy - which is the first important day in the Christmas season in Sweden. So, here is another Swedish lesson.

4. Lucia. For those who have children, the day usually starts with them getting up very early and celebrating the event at school with a lussetåg (which literally means a Lucia train), or procession led by a girl representing Lucia, wearing a long white gown with a red sash, and on her head a garland of green leaves as well as lighted candles. Behind her are additional girls dressed in white and with garlands in their hair, but with candles in their hands rather than on their heads, as well as boys - stjärngosse, or star boy - in white but without the sashes, and tall pointy dunce hats with stars on them, not unlike the hat Mickey Mouse wears in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The whole procession sings:

    Natten går tunga fjät
    rund gård och stuva;
    kring jord, som sol förlät,
    skuggorna ruva.
    Då i vårt mörka hus,
    stiger med tända ljus,
    Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

(which translates to:

    The night goes with weighty step
    round yard and (stove i.e. house, hearth?)
    round earth, the sun departs
    leave the woods brooding
    There in our dark house,
    appears with lighted candles
    Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.)

These processions are also held in churches and various other public places. The ritual is quite beautiful, and Swedes are great singers so the music is often superb: vibrato-free clear and pure and high children's voices singing in three- or four-part harmony. They also sing other songs, such as Staffansvisa - St. Stephen's song. And of course you need to eat Lussekatter, which are saffron pastries in the (very abstract) shape of a cat. It seems a little odd that this Lutheran country celebrates the feast day of an Italian saint who was martyred by having her eyes poked out, poor thing. I think it must surely have something to do with Lucia meaning, well, "light" - lux in Latin - and that the feast day is close to the winter solstice when the light finally starts to come back, slowly but surely, to this dark part of the world.

I will see a live lussetåg on Sunday (which is unusual, it's supposed to be on Dec. 13), when my friend the photographer's daughter will be singing at a whole long Lucia program - she could have been the Lucia, but she was busy taking a test or something when they were making the choice. Damn.

- by Francis S.

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