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Lucia: Italian saint, Swedish tradition

Published: 12 Dec 2006 13:58 GMT+01:00
Updated: 12 Dec 2006 13:58 GMT+01:00

The tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia of Italy in Sweden is honoured annually on 13th December. The total darkness of the Lucia early morning is broken by the glow of the Lucia figure dressed in a flowing gown of white and afire with a wreath of candles upon her head. Sankta Lucia, as she is known in Swedish, is a creature of goodness and light. She is a shining angel illuminating the way to the Christmas season.

The Lucia celebration originates from the Middle Ages when December 13th was the longest night of the year according to the Julian calendar. The Swedish Lucia has little in common with her namesake, also known in English as Saint Lucy, the Sicilian 4th century martyr. There is no certainty of the route the tradition took while establishing itself in Sweden.

However, it is popularly associated with a legend of a white-clad maiden, wearing a crown of burning candles. She appeared on the shores of Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern, bringing food to starving villagers during a time of famine. Ever since, she has been associated with light.

Today, the tradition is played out most often in the schools, churches and places of work before the dawn. A lucky girl dressed in a long white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles leads a procession. In tow are similarly dressed girls (tärnor) and boys wearing a tall pointed hat carrying a star wand (stjärngossar).

The rest of the procession is made up of girls and boys in similar dress sing beautifully haunting carols. Once the singing is over, the procession and its observers enjoy coffee and saffron-flavored buns called lussekatter.

Not too long ago the Lucia procession also took place at home. The eldest daughter had the honour to be Lucia. She and her siblings roused the family with their singing. Then the family gathered together with saffron buns at breakfast.

As the work traditions evolved in Sweden and both parents would go off to work dropping off children at centres and schools, there was a natural shift to leave the procession to the various institutions where people gather at the start of their day. Some modern families keep up the practice, but most often only for special guests or grandparents.

Nobel laureates are honored with a Lucia procession. The morning of the Nobel Award Ceremony and banquet the laureates are woken by a glowing figure of beauty, goodness and light sweetly singing.

SANKTA LUCIA SONG

It is traditional in Sweden to sing the Sankta Lucia song with the same

melody as the well-known Italian song. The translation is somewhat loose.

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.

Natten går stor och stum

nu hörs dess vingar

i alla tysta rum

sus som av vingar.

Se, på vår tröskel står

vitklädd med ljus i hår

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret ska flyta snart

ur jordens dalar

så hon ett underbart

ord till oss talar.

Dagen ska åter ny

stiga ur rosig sky

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

The night goes with heavy steps

around farm and cottage;

round the earth the sun has forsaken,

the shadows are brooding.

There in our darkened house,

stands with lighted candles

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

The night passes, large and mute

now one hears wings

in every silent room

whispers as if from wings.

See, on our threshold stands

white-clad with candles in her hair

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

The darkness shall soon depart

from the earth's valleys

then she speaks

a wonderful word to us.

The day shall be born anew

Rising from the rosy sky.

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

Translation: Chris Troy

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Stockholm.

Front Page Photos: Jan Tham/T Buckman. Copyright: Stockholm Visitors Board. Source: imagebank.sweden.se

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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