A re-run from 12 December 2006.
Tomorrow’s the feast-day of St Lucy, and my son’s school started off the celebrations a day early. So this afternoon, along with a lot of other parents, I had saffron buns and watched kids in Ku Klux Klan and Santa outfits form a long line and sing Christmas carols. One end of the line was mostly a few bars ahead of the other.
As a pretty recent tradition, the morning of 13 December is celebrated in Sweden with quite a bit of ceremony. It involves white-robed, predominantly young female carolers led by a candle-crowned girl, performing a specialised repertoire of songs in honour of St Lucy (Sw. Lucia) and St Stephen in addition to generic Christmas carols. Considerable amounts of candles, saffron buns, ginger biscuits, coffee and sometimes mulled wine are consumed in the process. It’s a huge deal in kiddie schools and Kindergartens. Flabberghasted Nobel laureates are woken before dawn at their hotels and relentlessly be-carolled.
This very Catholic custom is uniquely Swedish, which may be slightly surprising given the fact that the country has been Protestant since the 16th century. But winter in Sweden is dark and cold, with the weather steadily getting worse through the long autumn months. We really need a Candle Maiden in deep December when we’re still a week on the wrong side of the solstice.
BjÃ¶rn FromÃ©n of the Stockholm Tolkien Society translated a combination of the two most common Lucia hymns beautifully into High Elvish (and I just can’t believe it’s almost ten years since we put it on-line!). Here’s the first verse:
Lumna cormÃ³res nar
peler ar mardor,
or ambar alanar
caitar i mordor,
Ãre mir lÃ³na mÃ¡r
Ela i calmacolinde,
And in Swedish:
Natten gÃ¥r tunga fjÃ¤t
runt gÃ¥rd och stuva.
Kring jord som soln fÃ¶rlÃ¤t
DÃ¥ i vÃ¥rt mÃ¶rka hus
stiger med tÃ¤nda ljus
The tune is a traditional Neapolitan one, and the original Italian lyrics, coincidentally, are decidedly Tolkienian: Sul mare luccica l’astro d’argento…, “The silver star gleams over the sea…”.