Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sweden (Part 1): Gathering the Light on Santa Lucia Day

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to 
see the light. --Aristotle

Going to a Santa Lucia outdoor concert at Skansen, a large open-air museum in Skansen.

Amidst the winter darkness here in Sweden, everyone wants to maximize light. People plan their daily errands and work, in the hope of seeing rays of the sun. Once the light dims, there are candles and stars in windows to bring luminosity to the shadows. You can even see some small bonfires giving warmth to people as they stop by on some streets. But the day of Santa Lucia on December 13 is when midnight turns to day in Sweden with all the illuminating candles, fires, and lights. It is a day that begins the countdown, not only to Christmas but to the shortest day of the year on December 21.

Santa Lucia Day is named after a young woman named Lucia of Syracuse (283-304) who was a Christian martyr who brought food to persecuted Christians who were hiding in the Roman catacombs. Legend says she brought food in the darkness, wearing a crown of candles so that it would light the way in the underground tunnels so she could carry the food. Lucia means light, and she not only wanted to offer food to the afflicted but to bring light and hope to them.

The feast or festival of Santa Lucia is a day when music, light, and gathering friends and family together has prepared Swedes and Norwegians for the winter darkness for centuries. Being here in Stockholm this holiday has made me want to see, gather, chase, and radiate light a little more. It is a little darker here in Sweden right now, but everyone is prepared for the shadows. The Swedes know how to bring on the light like I have never seen before. And just like Saint Lucia who brought light and food to those who felt hopeless in a dark place, it made me want to do it a little more too.

The songs of the Santa Lucia are layered with beauty. Here are some of the lyrics that are sung during Santa Lucia:

We welcome you on this night of darkness. And welcome the light and the new morning. And a Merry Christmas to you. The new star is coming as we walk here in the darkness with a candle in our hands. Welcome, Jesus. It is eleven more days until Christmas.

Here is the melody of Santa Lucia

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth
Shadows are brooding,
There is our dark house.
Walking with its candles.
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed, 'whispering like wings,
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take light soon,
From earth's valleys,
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us"
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky--
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.
               Santa Lucia Festivities in Stockholm, Sweden 2018

Every year young girls are nominated and chosen in choirs, schools, and churches to represent Santa Lucia. This young woman was the Lucia from Gothenburg Cathedral in southern Sweden where it was televised to all of Sweden this year in 2018. One location is chosen every year. I watched the Gotheberg choir early on Santa Lucia Day at home. I was struck by the beautiful melodies, many of which are a part of Swedish Christmas songs. When my cousin translated them for me, I was so touched by their meaning. Both of us cried as she relayed the English translation to me. 
The Gotheberg choir in 2018 on the televised version.

A baker in Skansen, a historic open-air museum in Stockholm. A baker shows his Santa Lucia goods. 

Recipe for Lussekatter Saffron buns that everyone washes down with glogg (sweet, spiced juice) eaten with almonds and raisins.

Saffron buns in an Old Twon bakery

The oldest daughter traditionally serves these buns at home to her family, but Elias did it instead this year.

A local elementary school outside of Stockholm with light, candles, Advent lights ready for Santa Lucia.

Early on Santa Lucia morning--driving down the street. Candles line the streets to bring the light.

My cousin and son playing Santa Lucia at Skanson in Stockhom.

The early morning hours of light coming to a suburban Stockholm lake.

Lanterns on top of the fence to gather the light

Bonfires on the street to warm your hands by in Stockholm.

Two girls singing Santa Lucia songs at a Christmas market.

At a Santa Lucia concert with the Stockholm University

A little Swedish girl enjoying the festivities. A few moments later she was dancing around and even directing the choir. 

Outside in Skansen, Stockholm

At the end of the day, we happened to come across a Santa Lucia ice skating show. To watch the children skating around with their lit-up skates and carrying candles was not only beautiful but even a little emotional. As the day wore on, the words of the songs touched me about bringing light to the world. 

Some of the girls who were in the show with their lit up skates.

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