Lucia

Dec. 12th, 2006 10:41 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
[personal profile] liv
Tomorrow Sweden celebrates Lucia, which is technically the feast of St Lucy, but has no recognizable Christian content. So we had a nice party at work for the eve of the festival.

Lucia looks like an absolute classic of a nominally Christianized Pagan light festival, with a procession of girls dressed in white robes singing and carrying candles near the darkest part of the year. Screwy was cynical when I described it as such, though, and it turns out (see the Wikipedia article linked above) that it is in fact too good to be true; it's a relatively modern invention, based on a Romantic idea of what Pagan festivals might have been like. There seem to be some older roots though.

Anyway. The prettiest girl is elected Lucia, and she wears a crown of four candles, so it seems like there are bits of Christingle in there too. The other girls wear wreaths of fruit and flowers. While listening to them sing, one eats certain special foods. Lussekatter are special kind of bun, flavoured and coloured bright yellow with saffron (to encourage the return of the sun by sympathetic magic, apparently). They are shaped like a figure of eight; it takes a lot of imagination to see why they're described as Lucia's cats. My Swedish teacher suggested they look a bit like cats that have been run over and squished flat by a steamroller! Pepparkakor are a really tasty kind of ginger snap, very thin and gingery, which I have been happily getting addicted to over the past few weeks. Some of them actually do have pepper in as the name would suggest, others are just spiced but not overly sweet. Glögg is essentially mulled wine, I think; apparently there is a different flavouring theme each year, and one puts almonds and raisins in the wine.

So in our case, the Lucia procession was formed by some high school kids. Traditionally it's girls only, but these days boys are very often involved, borrowing bits of other seasonal traditions such as dressing up as Christmas elves or something called "starboys" which I think dates back earlier than Lucia itself. It's particularly useful to include the boys if you're trying to sing SATB, as this group were! I really wish someone had warned me that the starboys' costume consists of white robes and, get this, tall pointed conical white hats... When they made their entrance they momentarily reminded me of the Inquisition, which rather spoiled the emotional effect. Gleep.

Anyway, once I recovered from that shock, it was a very sweet little celebration. I'm spoiled by 20 years in Cambrige and Oxford; my assessment of the singing was that they were trying for stuff that was a little technically ambitious for untrained singers. They had a lot of polyphony with complicated rhythms and harmony, and their execution was hit-and-miss, pretty when it worked but rather ragged a lot of the time. Then someone mentioned that they are in fact not untrained, but pupils at a specialist music school.

Nobody had much idea what Lucy was actually canonized for; someone suggested preferring to be blinded rather than give up her faith, another that she was burned at the stake protecting her virginity. But they clearly don't really regard it as a Christian festival!

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-12 10:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ewtikins.livejournal.com
When I lived in Calgary we had a Swedish friend who had a St. Lucia party every year. We ate lovely foods and sang Christmas carols; nobody had candles on their heads (dangerous) but there were certainly candles, and she would tell us about how the festival was practised in Sweden when she was a girl.

It was a bit different than what you describe, in that the oldest daughter would wear a crown of five candles, and serve breakfast to the rest of the family.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-13 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
It sounds like an interesting experience. I didn't know about it.

I don't understand why someone needs to wear candles on her head at all. It does not indicate in Lucia's history at all that she did. I agree it is dangerous. I would be afraid of getting hot candle wax on my hair and head. I think it is absolutely enough carrying them in your hands, I mean the candles.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-12 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] usuakari.livejournal.com
Lussekatten are special kind of bun, flavoured and coloured bright yellow with saffron (to encourage the return of the sun by sympathetic magic, apparently).

Heh. I can understand the thinking, but are they really they're going to encourage the sun to return by eating it? Sounds like the whacky Swedish equivalent of "Get in ma belly!" to me.... with bucket-loads of enthusiasm but not a lot of enticement. ;)

Glögg is essentially mulled wine, I think...

That's just wonderful onomatapeia. :)

I really wish someone had warned me that the starboys' costume consists of white robes and, get this, tall pointed conical white hats...

Hmmm... now that's really interesting. Have you ever been to the Shetland Islands, or seen footage of the Up Helly Aa festival? That involves guisers (men) dressing up in very similar ways, and lots of candles from memory too. Not a huge surprise given the Norse influence on NW Scottish history and culture, but interesting because it seems to demonstrate that so nicely.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-14 05:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] usuakari.livejournal.com
Oh, and you may want to go and take a look at [livejournal.com profile] sealwhiskers's write-up on the subject as an ex-pat Swede too. Sheds a bit more light (pardon the pun) and the crown of candles thing and the serving of breakfasts too. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-13 01:32 am (UTC)
taimatsu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] taimatsu
She was in theory martyred in Syracuse by being blinded and stabbed through the throat. She is associated with light, because of the blinding thing and the name.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Lucy

My family used to celebrate our namedays. I will possibly try to buy cakes for friends tomorrow, especially my dear friend Lucy who lives down the road. My Polish godmother sends me a nameday card every year and I got this year's yesterday :)

We have, somewhere, a Lucia crown. (We once had a Swedish au pair and she brought it for us.) It's a green plastic circlet with five battery-operated candle simulacra set therein. It looks ok if you wrap the circlet in greenery; but you can, if I remember rightly, only get the bulbs in Sweden, so it's a bit awkward. We used to sometimes have a Lucia party as I knew lots of Lucys.

I once went to a sixthform literary society meeting (staff/student thing) dressed as St Lucy (it was a winter theme of some sort), and my performance piece was to sing a version of the Santa Lucia song that, annoyingly, I cannot find online. As described on Wikipedia, it's the Italian folksong about the place Santa Lucia, with new Scandinavian lyrics, and then it's a very nice English translation/versification. But I can't find it :( Perhaps it's in one of our Christmas books somewhere, I will have to look.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-13 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ploni-bat-ploni.livejournal.com
Wow, cool! Long live Nordic, nominally Pagan festivals!

Too bad I missed it: must have been cool. Too bad the singing wasn't up to par, though.

Is the inclusion of the boys a typically Swedish gender-egalitarian thing? Awww. How sweet!

(no subject)

Date: 2006-12-14 02:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rysmiel.livejournal.com
There's something really appealing to me about a solstice festival now falling on a different date by virtue of calendrical reform, that's just cool.

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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