Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Swedish Christmas


Advent means arrival, or coming, and since the 5th century AD has heralded the Christmas season and the birth of Christ. Since the 1890's , the custom in Sweden has been to light a candle every Sunday during Advent. The candles used to be placed in tiny Christmas trees, but form the 1930's onwards, these were superseded by candlesticks of iron or wood. The Moravian custom of handing a star made from paper, straw or chip wood in the windows also found its way to Sweden in the 1930's, recalling the star that guided the Three Wise Men. The Advent calendar dates from  around this time. Children open a window in the calendar for each passing day until Christmas Eve.
In people's homes the approach of Christmas is signified by getting out the Advent Candlestick (Adventstake see photo), which is often a little box with four candle holders embedded in moss and lingonberry sprigs. The first candle is lit on the First Sunday in Advent and allowed to burn down by one quarter, Next Sunday it is time for the second candle, and so on, until , by the forth Sunday, the first candle has burnt right down and the last one has been started..

All Swedes are looking forward to December 13th, grown-ups and children alike. That morning, LUCIA is celebrated in practically every Swedish home, every community, office, school or club. In those places we meet Lucia, dressed in white with crowns of candles in her hair, accompanied by a train of white-clad girls wearing glitter in their hair and boys wearing tall paper cones with stars on them singing Lucia carols and Christmas songs. 
Lucia is not an old tradition but genuinely Swedish and was originally a celebration for men only, gorging with food and drinks. 
The first Lucias appeared in manors and parsonages in western Sweden towards the end of the 18th century. According to folk tradition, this night was the longest of the year, a rest from the medieval calendar, where the winter-solstice occurred on December 13th. Because of this, it was necessary to have between 3 and 7 meals before dawn, composed of food from the Christmas slaughter: pork, brawn, jellied pig’s feet and many drinks to go with it. When, in the 1920s, a Stockholmnewspaper arranged a contest to choose a Lucia-girl to represent the city, the custom spread like wildfire. The gorging of food ceased with the introduction of the modern Lucia. Instead, she serves coffee with saffron rolls, ginger biscuits and other kinds of traditional Christmas bread. Sometimes Lucia also serves GLOGG, a mulled wine.


Various Myths
Throughout Sweden the feast day of Lucia, or Lucy, is celebrated as a festival of lights. In the early hours of the morning of December 13 a young woman, dressed in a white gown, and wearing a red sash and a crown of lingonberry twigs and blazing candles, would go from one farm to the next carrying a torch to light her way, bringing baked goods, stopping to visit at each house and returning home by break of day. Every village had its own Lucia. The custom is thought to have begun in some of the richer farming districts of Swedenand still persists although the crowns are now electric lights.
In Sweden it is a custom on December 13 for a girl in a white dress (representing the Saint), to bring a tray of saffron buns and steaming coffee to wake the family. She is called the "Lussibrud" (Lucy bride) and her pastry (saffron buns) isLussekattor. Today many families have a Lucia-Queen in their own home, often the youngest daughter, who wakes the rest of the family with song.

Lucia symbolizes light and growth for human and beast as she emerges out of the darkness. She is said to have been beheaded by the sword during the persecutions of Diocletian at Catania inSicily. Her body was later brought to Constantinople and finally to Venice, where she is now resting in the church of Santa Lucia. Because her name means "light" she very early became the great patron saint for the "light of the body"--the eyes. Many of the ancient light and fire customs of the Yuletide became associated with her day. Thus we find "Lucy candles" lighted in the homes and "Lucy fires" burned in the outdoors. Before the Reformation Saint Lucy's Day was one of unusual celebration and festivity because, for the people of Sweden and Norway, she was the great "light saint" who turned the tides of their long winter and brought the light of the day to renewed victory.

Before the calendar reform, her original feast day (the day of her martyrdom) happened to fall on the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice was December 13 by the Julian calendar rather than December 21, which it became with the change to the Gregorian calendar in the 1300s, linking it with the far older Yule and Winter festivals of pre-Christian times. Lucy's lore survived the Reformation and calendar reform, which brought the solstice to December 23.

Another Scandianavian custom was for children, on the eve of December 13, to write the word "Lussi" on doors, fences, and walls. In ancient times the purpose of this practice was to announce to the demons of winter that their reign was broken on Saint Lucy's Day, that the sun would return again and the days become longer. "Lucy fires" used to be burned in many parts of northern Europe on December 13. Into the bonfires people would throw incense, and while the flames rose, trumpets and flutes were playing to celebrate the changing of the suns's course.


Santa Lucia of Sicily and the winter solstice festivalThe original Lucia was a young Christian girl from the town ofSyracuse, on the Italian island of Sicily.  The woman called St. Lucy refused to make a sacrifice to the emperor Diocletian She was beheaded by sword on the 13th of December in 304 A.D. during the persecutions of Christians that occurred in the lateRoman empire. At the end she said: “I know of no other God than my Creator in Heaven and I am prepared to die for him.” Legend asserts that Lucia, during her life, was willing to sacrifice even her eyes for her true belief and so Lucia became a symbol of light in darkness. Her body rests in a church in Venice.
Saint Lucia was one of the earliest Christian martyr saints to achieve popularity: She is the patron saint of the Sicilian town ofSyracuse and the patron saint of the blind. Her body is now resting in the church of Santa Lucia in Venice, north Italy.

In the middle of the 19th century the Lucia song was brought to Sweden from Naples and now the name Lucia is celebrated in practically every Swedish home and church, community and club, school and office.
Lucia appears, dressed in a white gown, with a crown of candles, accompanied by a group of girls also dressed in white and sometimes by young boys wearing tall paper cones with stars on them. They all sing the Lucia song and Christmas carols.
There are Lucia processions everywhere and every village elects its own Lucia. The 'Lucia Queen' leads the processions mostly consisting of a group of young girls and boys singing traditional carols. Lucia's day symbolically opens the Christmas celebrations in Scandinavia, bringing hope and light during the darkest months of the year.
In those early ages, the Norse used to celebrated the winter solstice
on the 
same 13th of December, the shortest day and the longest night
of the year. 
The solstice was a magic fest when people particularly feared
goblins and 
ghosts, and bonfires would be burned to celebrate the
changing of the course 
of the sun.

The Norse converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D. starting to adopt Christian traditions and to abandon their pagan beliefs. As the winter solstice festival fell originally on the same day than Saint Lucia's Day, both pagan and Christian traditions mixed to become the modern Lucia celebration: the festival of lights.

Julbock, the Yule Goat
The Yule Goat is a typical Scandinavian Christmas ornament made of straw which is used as decoration throughout the home

Norse Mythology and the origins of the Yule Goat

Before Christianity arrived in Scandinavia, the ancient Scandinavians used to celebrate the winter solstice around the same time that we celebrate Christmas today. The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year, and from here the days gradually increase in length and bring us spring and summer. For the ancient Scandinavians, the beginning of the end of winter was a very important reason for celebration.

One of those traditional winter solstice celebrations was the Yule Goat. The Yule Goat was a person disguised as a goat who went from house to house entertaining families with songs and dances, and receiving drink and food in exchange for the entertainment.

Why would a goat be going from house to house to entertain people? In Norse mythology, the good-natured, protective god Thor traveled around in a charriot that was drew by two magical goats. It is believed that the ancient tradition of the Yule Goat represented the magical goats who came with Thor as he visited the Scandinavian homes bringing happiness and protection at this very special time of the year.

The Gävlebocken is today a world-famous typical Swedish icon. In 1993 the Gävlebocken got into the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest straw goat ever build (14.9 metres-high).

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