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December 12, 2010

Saint Lucy’s Eve
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 PM *

From the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site:

Traditional Swedish Song
celebrating the Feast of St. Lucia, December 13.

1. Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord, som sol’n förlät,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiga med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiga med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

2. Natten är stor och stum.
Nu hör! det svingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står
vitklädd, med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Se på vår tröskel står
vitklädd, med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

3. "Mörkret skall flykta snart
ur jordens dalar."
Så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

The editor of the Hymns & Carols site recommends various links about the Feast of Saint Lucy, which I’m sure were very good back when they worked. If anyone wants to chase after them: The Christ Child as Saint by Jan-Öjvind Swahn, discussing the St. Lucia tradition in Sweden. :: Lucy Fest by Susan Granquist, with a list of references compiled by Robert Shea. :: An English language translation of this song, Nightly, Go Heavy Hearts by Colin MacCallum, on Don Erickson’s Swedish Folk Songs page. :: Further translations by Sid Smith on his Sankta Lucia Song Page. :: According to Kjrsten Holt, the song is based on a traditional Neapolitan melody, with Swedish words by Arvid Rosén, 1928; see Lucia Morning in Sweden. “Most other sites concur,” says the editor, though Björn Fromén attributes the words to Arvid Rosén and Sigrid Elmblad, and Erika Holmsten says the first text was written by Sigrid Elmblad around 1900, but the version sung most often is Arvid Rosén’s. :: I add: Björn Fromén’s page, Lícumariel linde, is the only link that still works. What the editor didn’t mention is that it’s primarily a translation of the Swedish Sankta Lucia song into Quenya. (Sticking lights on your head: a natural subject in Quenya.)

And then the site editor quotes this wonderful bit:

Note from Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan (T. Fisher Unwin, 1912), pp. 221-3 (footnotes are Miles’ own):

In Sweden St. Lucia’s Day was formerly marked by some interesting practices. It was, so to speak, the entrance to the Christmas festival, and was called “little Yule.”* At the first cock-crow, between 1 and 4 a.m., the prettiest girl in the house used to go among the sleeping folk, dressed in a white robe, a red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs and having nine lighted candles fastened in it. She awakened the sleepers and regaled them with a sweet drink or with coffee,* sang a special song, and was named “Lussi” or “Lussibruden” (Lucy bride). When everyone was dressed, breakfast was taken, the room being lighted by many candles. The domestic animals were not forgotten on this day, but were given special portions. A peculiar feature of the Swedish custom is the presence of lights on Lussi’s crown. Lights indeed are the special mark of the festival; it was customary to shoot and fish on St. Lucy’s Day by torchlight, the parlours, as has been said, were brilliantly illuminated in the early morning, in West Gothland Lussi went round the village preceded by torchbearers, and in one parish she was represented by a cow with a crown of lights on her head. In schools the day was celebrated with illuminations.*

What is the explanation of this feast of lights? There is nothing in the legend of the saint to account for it; her name, however, at once suggests lux—light. It is possible, as Dr. Feilberg supposes, that the name gave rise to the special use of lights among the Latin-learned monks who brought Christianity to Sweden, and that the custom spread from them to the common people. A peculiar fitness would be found in it because St. Lucia’s Day according to the Old Style was the shortest day of the year, the turning-point of the sun’s light.*

In Sicily also St. Lucia’s festival is a feast of lights. After sunset on the Eve a long procession of men, lads, and children, each flourishing a thick bunch of long straws all afire, rushes wildly down the streets of the mountain village of Montedoro, as if fleeing from some danger, and shouting hoarsely. “The darkness of the night,” says an eye-witness, “was lighted up by this savage procession of dancing, flaming torches, whilst bonfires in all the side streets gave the illusion that the whole village was burning.” At the end of the procession came the image of Santa Lucia, holding a dish which contained her eyes.* In the midst of the piazza a great mountain of straw had been prepared; on this everyone threw his own burning torch, and the saint was placed in a spot from which she could survey the vast bonfire.*

In central Europe we see St. Lucia in other aspects. In the Böhmerwald she goes round the village in the form of a nanny-goat with horns, gives fruit to the good children, and threatens to rip open the belly of the naughty. Here she is evidently related to the pagan monsters already described. In Tyrol she plays a more graceful part: she brings presents for girls, an office which St. Nicholas is there supposed to perform for boys only.*

In Lower Austria St. Lucia’s Eve is a time when special danger from witchcraft is feared and must be averted by prayer and incense. A procession is made through each house to cense every room. On this evening, too, girls are afraid to spin lest in the morning they should find their distaffs twisted, the threads broken, and the yarn in confusion. (We shall meet with like superstitions during the Twelve Nights.) At midnight the girls practise a strange ceremony: they go to a willow-bordered brook, cut the bark of a tree partly away, without detaching it, make with a knife a cross on the inner side of the cut bark, moisten it with water, and carefully close up the opening. On New Year’s Day the cutting is opened, and the future is augured from the markings found. The lads, on the other hand, look out at midnight for a mysterious light, the Luzieschein, the forms of which indicate coming events.*

In Denmark, too, St. Lucia’s Eve is a time for seeing the future. Here is a prayer of Danish maids: “Sweet St. Lucy let me know: whose cloth I shall lay, whose bed I shall make, whose child I shall bear, whose darling I shall be, whose arms I shall sleep in.”*

So, next time you run into those sanctimonious types who are forever going on about how we need to return to traditional Christmas observances, tell them about the Feast of Saint Lucy. Or possibly the Krampus. Anyone up for a nice round of Suffering Ballads?
Comments on Saint Lucy's Eve:
#1 ::: Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 11:39 PM:

I've been missing proper Lucia celebrations lately. Since I moved from Sweden 2005, most celebrations I've been part of have been organized by Swedish language learners; with corresponding loose grips of the traditions I'm used to. This year, I saw a proper Lucia procession — albeit well over a week early — at the San Francisco Swedish Christmas Market.

When I grew up, this was the structure of a proper Lucia procession.
First: Lucia. A (traditionally blond girl) person dressed in a crown with candles (traditionally live, safer and more modern: electric), a white dress and a red sash.
Then: Some number of Tärnor, traditionally all girls, dressed in white dresses with tinsel sashes, and carrying one candle each.
After these: Some number of Stjärngossar, traditionally all boys, dressed in white dresses with white, tall, conical hats adorned with golden stars. Optionally with golden stars on the tops of little wands.
Subsequently: Some number of gingerbread men: brown clothes with adornments in the shape of frosting.
Finally: Some number of Tomtar (gnomes?) in all red, with white trims, a floppy hat with white trim and bobble, and carrying lanterns.

These bring the traditional Lucia breakfast: mulled wine, gingerbread cookies and sweet saffron wheat bread with raisins.

And that's how I remember St. Lucy's. (I could go on and on and on about the correct and les than correct songs to include too… But let's let this be enough for now.)

#2 ::: lucyp ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 11:40 PM:

"There is nothing in the legend of the saint to account for it."

Well, the legend says that she was blinded, and she is often pictured holding a dish with her eyeballs in it. Dec. 13 was the shortest day of the year, under the old calendar, which probably explains why it was given to her.

I'll be eating bullar tomorrow at dawn, and lighting candles, as I always do on Dec. 13th.


#3 ::: Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2010, 11:43 PM:

More mildly topical pieces of information:

Humon's Scandinavia and the World takes a look at Nordic christmas celebrations.

Elvis Presley sings the “original” sicilian melody.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:03 AM:

And the movie, The Ref, with Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, is the perfect date movie for St. Lucy's Eve.


#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:20 AM:

Mikael: Tomtar again! Cool. They came up for discussion on this day in Making Light six years ago.

#6 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:21 AM:

Eyeballs? Eating a burglar? Aaaahh!!

#7 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:58 AM:

I was in Sankta Lucia procession when I was ten. Wrote about it here.

I think part of the light connection is that on the old calendar December 13 was the shortest day of the year, as in John Donne's "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day Being the Shortest Day":

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

While not as famous as any number of other poems by Donne, to me, this one epitomizes Donne.

#8 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 04:21 AM:

Mmmm, glögg.

With gingerbread for breakfast, at work.

#9 ::: Milena ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 04:43 AM:

Delurking with a somewhat interesting tidbit...

In Croatia, it's traditional to plant some wheat grains in a small pot on St. Lucy's. On Christmas day, you then judge how good the year is going to be by the state of the wheat. And, of course, local florists now sell already-grown wheat in pots for those who forgot or simply didn't have much luck with their own.

#10 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 06:19 AM:

Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson @ #1:

What? No Staffan? Butbutbut... Who will be singing the male first soprano if there is no Staffan?

Of course, the exact composition of the Lucia parade does differ from locality to locality and back when I was of an age to be roped into appearing (rather than, as it were, choosing if I do or not), it might've been an interesting mix of "from everywhere".

#11 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 07:01 AM:

Due to school schedules, St. Lucia arrived a day early at our house this year. My daughter is always, always delighted to get to wear a white gown and red ribbon and bring us breakfast in bed, although we usually go out and eat at the table. (Also, she's only 7, so we've nixed live candles for now. But she aspires to them.)

And now I shall go make coffee, because it's the real St. Lucy's Day and we have coffee bread to enjoy.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 07:44 AM:

One should note that in the country of Saint Lucia, the major festivals are the fête la Woz in August and the fête la Magawit in October.

#14 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 08:10 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 6... If you ever rent the Lovecraft story done as a silent movie a couple of years ago, the DVD's usual warning about how the FBI will get cross with you over illegal copies also warns that mi-go will eat your eyeballs.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 08:15 AM:

TNH #13: La Woz is a rose (and the festival date is the Saint's day of Saint Rose of Lima). La Magwit is not a European daisy, however, since that doesn't grow in St. Lucia.

#16 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 08:50 AM:

Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson @1 - Some number of Stjärngossar, traditionally all boys, dressed in white dresses with white, tall, conical hats adorned with golden stars. Optionally with golden stars on the tops of little wands.

Thank you. That explains the little bears on the Christmas cards I bought at Ikea a few years ago.

#17 ::: nigel holmes ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 08:51 AM:

They were talking about St. Lucia celebrations on the radio here in Bavaria this morning. Apparently children in Fürstenfeldbruck float candlelit papier-maché houses down the river. This (German) page of the Bayerischen Rundfunk links it (as remarked above at #7) to the fact that the festival fell on the solstice before the calendar reform of 1582.

#18 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 09:17 AM:

Via Martin Rundkvist, Natten går tunga fjät in Elvish.

#19 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 09:25 AM:

When I was small, my dentist's office had a book in the waiting room, produced by UNICEF, on holidays around the world, and that was where I learned about St. Lucia celebrations.

I coveted that crown of candles like you wouldn't believe. When the kid was of the age for American Girl dolls, we went with Kirsten, mostly because the kid was blond, but we also made sure to buy the St. Lucia outfit.

The closest I've ever come to the crown of candles was when I played Luthien in a masquerade entry, and I had perhaps a dozen battery-operated LED blinky stars in my hair (and light of stars was in her hair/and on her raiment glimmering). I loved it.

#20 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 09:55 AM:

Arrrggghhhh! Wrong thread! Kill that message, quick!

#21 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Every year, Marissa Lingen celebrates Santa Lucia. This year's post has links to all the others but especially read 2006.

#22 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 10:53 AM:

she is often pictured holding a dish with her eyeballs in it

e.g. This painting by Domenico Beccafumi. St. Lucy must be the final image in the descrition of a vandalised church near the end of Saramago's Blindness.

#23 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 10:53 AM:

that is to say, "description".

#24 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 11:05 AM:

Candlewax in your hair is a *pain* to remove.

I did have glögg and saffron bullar and gingerbread snaps for breakfast this morning, but I didn't go see my Alma Mater's choir do their traditional procession.

#25 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Our friends who were living in Sweden for several years recently returned to the states. Their 7 year old daughter, who started school in Sweden, was heartbroken this year to learn that American schools do not celebrate Saint Lucy's Eve the way they do in Sweden (or at all for that matter). She apparently was really into the candle hats and songs.

#26 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 12:55 PM:

A Saint Lucy carol translated into High Elvish:

Lumna cormóres nar
peler ar mardor,
or ambar alanar
caitar i mordor,
íre mir lóna már
ninquitar lícumar:
Ela i calmacolinde,

Found at Aardvarchaeology

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 02:06 PM:

Jo @21:

Thank you for the link, and the recommendation of the 2006 entry in particular. Powerful and worth reading.

#28 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 03:17 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg @ 7

That poem had me thinking for years that St. Lucy's day must be either the 22nd or 23rd. (The 'eleven days' never occurred to me).

abi@27: Seconded. Thank you Jo (and Mris, if you happen to be lurking.)

The Swedish custom with the candles makes me think that St. Lucy ought really to be the patron saint of fire prevention officers. On the principle of lucus a non lucendo, naturally.

#29 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2010, 03:21 PM:

Modesto Kid #22:

Or Domenico Veneziano's St. Lucy Altarpiece, where Lucy is on the right, eyeballs on a tray.

#30 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2010, 08:46 AM:

At Facebook, my mother tells me that when we were living at Scattergood Friends School (West Branch, IA, the third and fourth years of my life or so), one of the girls would wear candles and bring us fresh baked bread on St Lucia's day.

#31 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2010, 11:06 AM:

I now know (probably) what T.S. Eliot was referring to when he wrote
And here I rememeber also with gratitude
St Lucy, her carol and her crown of fire

(From 'The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.)

I have never seen the carol before. I know the Neapolitan folk song, which is not about the actual saint at all, but, apparently, about a place of that name on the Bay of Naples.

Regarding the date: I don't think it can have been chosen for St Lucy because it was the shortest day, since the feast will have been established before the calendar got so out of step. It just has to be seen as a lucky coincidence.

#32 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Andrew M @ 31

Without knowing it's true for St. Lucia specifically, a lot of the various celebrations shifted around a bit, and were normalized to the current calendar later. It's possible that St. Lucia's day was celebrated on the shortest day of the year, and later standardized to the 13th.

Especially if she's really an adopted goddess.

#33 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2010, 02:35 AM:

I'm running on diminished mental capacity this evening, given inadequate sleep, too much driving, a couple of parties, too much more driving, and a pint at the pub, but is the reason for posting the translations from Swedish into Quenya just because it's cool, or is it because of the Silician version by that singer who might be Elvish?

And the drink served in Lake Wobegone on St. Lucia mornings is the coffee tradition, rather than the glogg..

#34 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2010, 09:12 AM:

Hyperlocal News Network:

Woman takes shameful advantage of cat's attraction to bathroom heater, and squirts druga down her gullet and into her ears, then sprays the prescribed soothing spray onto area where skin allergy has manifested. Cat, while attempting to depart with prejudice, heard to exclaim "No. I get out of here, me. I follow you, Vorga. I find you, Vorga. I pay you back, me. I rot you. I kill you, Vorga. I kill you filthy,"

I have no idea where she came up with that, as I don't think there's any Bester in the house.

#35 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Oops, that was supposed to be in the Open Thread.

#36 ::: Daephene ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2010, 07:20 PM:

I was told (last week in fact) that there was a legend about the candles. Specifically that Lucia would go take food to lepers living in caves and would wear her light on her head instead of her hands so she could carry more food.

I have no idea where the pastor who told me that got it from, just throwing it out there.

#37 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2010, 08:37 PM:

Daephene #36: Sounds like typical "back-formation". Given the name ("Lucia" just means "light") and timing (formerly the solstice, still nearby), St. Lucia almost certainly represents the Christian co-opting of a pagan custom. This is entirely usual, as it was a basic part of how early Christianity spread.

#38 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2010, 01:03 PM:

David Harmon@37: But at the time early Christians were doing that, St Lucy was nowhere near the solstice. It was the solstice in the 17th century, when the calendar had slipped ten days. The reform in the 18th century (earlier in Catholic countries) put the dates back where they were when the calendar was being formed.

I guess it's possible that the Scandinavian ceremony is a co-optation of a pagan tradition, given how late paganism continued there; but the feast itself goes back a lot further than that. 'Lucia' is a perfectly real Roman name; the way the significance of her name and the date of her feast fit together may just be a happy coincidence.

#39 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Andrew #38: Even ten days before (or after) is still pretty close, but the real question is when the ritual was before it got assigned a saint's day. And the "crown of light" and other fires mentioned, make it pretty dubious that the name is a coincidence... the "star boys" mentioned in #1 are another pointer to the skies, while the other versions described in the OP have multiple obvious relics of paganism. (Omens from a willow tree, and from a "mysterious light" at midnight? Dude, that's pagan!)

The thing is, most of the Christian seasonal rituals, and a fair proportion of their saints, are known to be adopted from pagan rituals and myths respectively. (One thing the evangelicals are plain right about!) So when I see a girl or young woman called "Lucia", bearing a crown of light through a midwinter ritual, that fits smoothly into well-known patterns.

#41 ::: lucyp ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2010, 09:02 AM:

David #39: It is my understanding that the Sankta Lucia festival, as it is celebrated today with candles and white dresses and stars and pointy hats, is mostly a late nineteenth-century reimagining that involved taking a feast celebrated only regionally, and making it into a pan-Swedish holiday. So not accidental pagan survivals of a forgotten folk past, but a deliberate mostly faux pagan construction with nationalist aims in mind. There was a lot of that going around at the time.

#42 ::: Jacque suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2012, 01:04 AM:

...ending with a comma...?

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