söndag, december 12, 2010

Santa Lucia in Sweden

December 13

Something new happened in the 1920-ies. A Swedish singer was on a holiday in Neaples. He saw all street- names, restaurants and hotels named after Lucia. He also heard a special fisherman' song and he now, thanks to the song, got an idea to make the Lucia- celebration more respectable. The song got a new text in Swedish- connected to Lucia. In 1928 a newspaper announced a competition "Who will be Santa Lucia of Sweden?" This was the starting point for a new annual celebration. Since then, every year we appoint "Sweden' Lucia".

Very early on 13th December on every school, hospital, work place, church, nursery, homes for the aged- everywhere she turns up. She comes, with candles in her hair - not alone - there are attendants of girls and boys. The girls are called - maiden, the boys - "stjärngossar". You will also find some "Santa Clauses" and "Ginger-Snaps boys" in her procession. All dressed in white- except for the Santa Clauses and the Ginger-Snaps boys. They sing Christmas- Carols and they serve us coffee, "Lussekatter" and hard Ginger-Snaps cakes. The cakes are formed as hearts. They will make us kind.

Why do we celebrate this day so much? This day is important. Perhaps since this day in the past was the shortest day of the year.

This Lutheran country has adopted Santa Lucia as its own special Saint, and the celebration is an interesting mix between Roman Catholic traditions and old Swedish Folklore.

White gowns, stars and candles
The real candles once used are now battery-powered, but there is still a special atmosphere when the lights are dimmed and the sound of the children singing grows as they enter from an adjacent room.

Tradition has it that Lucia is to wear "light in her hair," which in practice means a crown of electric candles in a wreath on her head. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle, too. Parents gather in the dark with their new digital cameras at the ready.

The star boys, who like the handmaidens are dressed in white gowns, carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads. The brownies bring up the rear, carrying small lanterns.

Staunchly opposed to privilege, Sweden has always sought to avoid ranking people, which is why beauty contests and "homecoming queen" events are rare. The Lucia celebration, however, has been an exception. Every year, local newspaper subscribers are invited to vote for one or other of the candidates.

You can no longer count on the blonde winning, although many a Miss Sweden has started out as the local Lucia. On Lucia Day, the winner is announced and is then driven around town, preferably in a horse-drawn vehicle of some kind, to spread light and song in food stores, factories, old-age homes and medical centres.

Lucia — the bearer of light
Alongside Midsummer, the Lucia celebrations represent one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, with their clear reference to life in the peasant communities of old: darkness and light, cold and warmth.

Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters.

The many Lucia songs all have the same theme:

The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

All Swedes know the standard Lucia song by heart, and everyone can sing it, in or out of tune. On the morning of Lucia Day, the radio plays some rather more expert renderings, by school choirs or the like.

The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee.

Saffron buns are consumed on Lucia Day.

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