• Sweden's news in English

The octogenarian Saint Lucia choir: still in tune

The Local · 13 Dec 2012, 11:53

Published: 13 Dec 2012 11:53 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

December 13th, 2012, marks the 14th celebration of light for the group of singers who live together in Bandhagen. There have been two power blackouts in Stockholm’s southern suburbs in the past ten days, and the building's lift has decided to pack it in.

Rut Viberg and the more mobile residents of the cooperative have already made their way downstairs, setting the long tables. Two ginger snaps, a slice of saffron cake, and a clementine on paper plates. And coffee, of course, as is their wont.


A heavily decked plastic Christmas tree throws light down the darkened aisle as she cautiously makes her way.

“I really do have to concentrate to walk down the aisle, my balance isn’t what it once was,” Viberg tells The Local. “It’s a personal challenge for me, that’s why I decided I had to do it.”

It’s the third year in a row that Viberg is leading the choir on Lucia, the saint of light widely fêted as Sweden spins towards the winter solstice and days end at 3pm, earlier in the far north. Viberg calls the darkness “spooky” and recalls her days as a nurse, when the Lucia choir would brighten up the wards, literally, and in spirit.

“Although one elderly foreign-born woman who wasn’t familiar with the tradition seemed to think she’d ended up in the afterlife,” Viberg says.

She smiles, printed out lyrics on her lap, then leans forward to lift the plastic crown gingerly from a bag. She checks each one of the tiny plastic bulbs. And steps up to the floor-length mirror in the bare hallway to adjust it.

Choir boy Nils Eric “Nisse” Polsäter, 83, isn’t decked out in the traditional floor-length white chemise but a neighbour is helping him adjust the pointy star-adorned hat worn by “stallardrängar” (grooms in the manger).

Lucia maid Margareta Carlsson, 83, is also ready, her frail hand gripping a plastic candle, seemingly despite the weight of innumerable gold bracelets.

“You know, these songs, you learn them by heart as a child but then you’re standing there and can’t remember a word,” she says.

“I’ve heard it’ll get worse,” Carlsson adds with a cheerful wink, as she is joined by yet another resident who is ready to sing. More than 20 residents are waiting outside in the dining room for the four-strong choir. A quick equipment check descends into a temporary hullaballoo, as hands weaker than they once were try to change the battery of one of the candles.

Then it’s time. Silence and then the first verses, they open the door.

“Wait wait wait,” coordinator Solveig Eriksson says, the song melting into a confused whimper. “The lift is working again, let’s wait for the others!”

Some of the residents in the 54 apartments are too frail to come down, regardless of the lift working or not, but some simply cannot face the stairs with walking canes or a walker. A few more show up. The choir tries again, slowly floating into the room and down the aisle. The residents sing along.

By the Christmas tree, Viberg keeps the palm of her hands clasped tight together, like in prayer. Her three maids and one choir boy keep tune. Across Sweden, similar scenes are unfolding everywhere – from day care centres to cathedrals.

A few minutes later, as the choir sweeps out, a resident with two walking canes is helped into the room. He nods at Lucia, who nods back. Two of her maids let go of their two-hand candle grip to wave a quick welcome.

Then it’s time for coffee.

“What a marvellous saffron cake,” Margareta Carlsson says contentedly.

Story continues below…

She didn’t bother watching the annual Lucia morning broadcast on Sveriges Television (SVT), which this year showed the celebrations taking place at Uppsala Cathedral. Solveig Eriksson did, but only for a bit before heading downstairs for their own version.

“I turned the TV off when the rapping started,” she says.

“It really isn’t the way it should be done,” chimes in Inga Retsloff, 83, as she sips her coffee.

Take a look at our past Swedes of the Week.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Prime Minister to meet Swedish troops in Iraq
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Löfven is set to meet Swedish troops in Iraq on Tuesday.

Swedish politicians wage war on winter time
Soon it will look like this on your way home from work in Sweden. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Should Sweden stick with summer time all year round?

'Don't turn the Pope into a global teddy bear'
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Leonore visiting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

It's time to hold the Pope to account and make sure he turns his words about reform into action, argues a minister of the Swedish Church ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Sweden.

Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
Should Swedes think fairtrade with porn? Photo: Karin Malmhav/SvD/TT

A fairtrade attitude to pornography would be beneficial, Sweden's health minister told The Local.

Presented by Stockholm University
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Nordic fashion took centre stage in the Swedish capital last week as Stockholm University hosted the “first-ever” academic conference looking at luxury and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Referee, coach and parents in Swedish youth football fight
File photo of a referee holding a red card not related to the story. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

A football dad broke his leg in the brawl in front of 11-year-old kids after a Hammarby youth football game.

Illicit abattoir kept more than 100 bulls' penises
A couple of young bulls not related to the story. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Dried cattle genitalia, goats' heads and hundreds of litres of lard were just a few of the many strange finds discovered when police raided a property in Sweden.

This is officially Sweden's most beautiful beard
The most beautiful beard in Sweden. Photo: Memo Göcek

According to a jury of barbers and 'well known bearded profiles', that is.

Presented by Invest Stockholm
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm

You might think it’s hard to make friends in a new city. But if at first you don’t succeed – try something else!

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available