Today Swedes are celebrating Saint Lucia, one of the only (if not the only) saint that we in Scandinavia still celebrate despite being Protestant. For us, Saint Lucia is the day of light, and of expectation just before Christmas…
In Sweden, and to some extent in the other Nordic countries, processions of young girls and boys greet people in the morning on the 13th December with singing and candle light. In school there is usually a Lucia selected among the older girls and every class has 1-2 representatives in the procession, the rest of the school children gather in the gym hall and the lights are turned off… All of a sudden the hall is lit up with candles and singing from the procession – they stride slowly across the floor while singing lots of Lucia- & Christmas related songs. Sometimes there are a few boys dressed up as pepparkaksgubbar (Gingerbread men) and tomtenissar (Father Christmas’ helpers)
One of the Lucia songs, Natten går tunga fjät is my favourite and is actually of Italian origin – just like the Saint herself who was from Syracuse, Sicily. I learnt the Italian version when I studied Italian in high school and we would sing it for the other language classes (German, French & Spanish) every year.
My best Lucia memory is from Italy in December 2000. The Nordic students of the master’s programme decided to celebrate Saint Lucia with a procession in the courtyard of the monastery San Niccolò, where we studied (on the island Lido in Venice). Danish L was chosen as Lucia as the tallest of us, we crafted a Lucia crown from some wire, green leaves and candles. We dressed up in white sheets (like some kind of toga party!), created the white coned hats for the boys (no, it’s not Ku Klux Klan) and practised singing Natten går tunga fjät in Swedish and Italian. However, we felt that we needed another song to complement the Lucia song, so we chose Silent Night – to be sung in Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and English! (there were no Norwegian students..)
It was a beautiful Lucia procession and highly appreciated among the other students – unfortunately I never managed to get hold of any photos… I wonder what the 4 remaining monks from the monastery thought of our celebration!? And L got to experience the worst part of being Lucia – the candle wax in the hair afterwards!
Now I am watching the Lucia morning procession on Swedish tv (via internet) and I will eat a homemade Lussekatt like we did every 13th December when I was a child before going to school (only day of the year when we were allowed to watch tv during breakfast).
Here is the first verse of the original, Italian version of the Lucia song (it is a fisherman’s song):
Sul mare luccica (Santa Lucia)
Sul mare luccica
Placida è l’onda;
prospero è il vento.
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia