The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Santa Lucia

Traditional Swedish Song
celebrating the Feast of St. Lucia, December 13.

MIDI / Noteworthy Composer

1. Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord, som sol'n förlät,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiga med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiga med tända ljus
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

2. Natten är stor och stum.
Nu hör! det svingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står
vitklädd, med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Se på vår tröskel står
vitklädd, med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

3. "Mörkret skall flykta snart
ur jordens dalar."
Så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky.
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Editor's Notes:

Christmas Magazine has reproduced an article by Jan-Öjvind Swahn titled "Lucia - The Christ Child as Saint" which discusses the St. Lucia tradition in Sweden.  The article was based on information provided by the Consulate General of Sweden, Vancouver.

Another recommended article, Lucy Fest, was written by Susan Granquist, which also contains a list of references compiled by Robert Shea.

An English language translation of this song by Colin MacCallum, Nightly, Go Heavy Hearts, can be found on Don Erickson's Swedish Folk Songs page. Sid Smith also has translations on his Sankta Lucia Song page

According to  Kjrsten Holt, the song, "Sankta Lucia," is based on a traditional Neapolitan melody, with words by Arvid Rosén, 1928. See Lucia Morning in Sweden. Most other sites concur. However, at one site, Björn Fromén gives attribution to Arvid Rosén and Sigrid Elmblad. Finally, Erika Holmsten at ErikaWeb states that the first text was written by the journalist Sigrid Elmblad around 1900, but that the version sung most often was written by Arvid Rosén.

Note from Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan (T. Fisher Unwin, 1912), pp. 221-3:

"In Sweden St. Lucia's Day was formerly marked by some interesting practices. It was, so to speak, the entrance to the Christmas festival, and was called “little Yule.”1 At the first cock-crow, between 1 and 4 a.m., the prettiest girl in the house used to go among the sleeping folk, dressed in a white robe, a red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs and having nine lighted candles fastened in it. She awakened the sleepers and regaled them with a sweet drink or with coffee,A sang a special song, and was named “Lussi” or “Lussibruden” (Lucy bride). When everyone was dressed, breakfast was taken, the room being lighted by many candles. The domestic animals were not forgotten on this day, but were given special portions. A peculiar feature of the Swedish custom is the presence of lights on Lussi's crown. Lights indeed are the special mark of the festival; it was customary to shoot and fish on St. Lucy's Day by torchlight, the parlours, as has been said, were brilliantly illuminated in the early morning, in West Gothland Lussi went round the village preceded by torchbearers, and in one parish she was represented by a cow with a crown of lights on her head. In schools the day was celebrated with illuminations.2

"What is the explanation of this feast of lights? There is nothing in the legend of the saint to account for it; her name, however, at once suggests lux—light. It is possible, as Dr. Feilberg supposes, that the name gave rise to the special use of lights among the Latin-learned monks who brought Christianity to Sweden, and that the custom spread from them to the common people. A peculiar fitness would be found in it because St. Lucia's Day according to the Old Style was the shortest day of the year, the turning-point of the sun's light.3

"In Sicily also St. Lucia's festival is a feast of lights. After sunset on the Eve a long procession of men, lads, and children, each flourishing a thick bunch of long straws all afire, rushes wildly down the streets of the mountain village of Montedoro, as if fleeing from some danger, and shouting hoarsely. “The darkness of the night,” says an eye-witness, “was lighted up by this savage procession of dancing, flaming torches, whilst bonfires in all the side streets gave the illusion that the whole village was burning.” At the end of the procession came the image of Santa Lucia, holding a dish which contained her eyes.B In the midst of the piazza a great mountain of straw had been prepared; on this everyone threw his own burning torch, and the saint was placed in a spot from which she could survey the vast bonfire.4

"In central Europe we see St. Lucia in other aspects. In the Böhmerwald she goes round the village in the form of a nanny-goat with horns, gives fruit to the good children, and threatens to rip open the belly of the naughty. Here she is evidently related to the pagan monsters already described. In Tyrol she plays a more graceful part: she brings presents for girls, an office which St. Nicholas is there supposed to perform for boys only.5

"In Lower Austria St. Lucia's Eve is a time when special danger from witchcraft is feared and must be averted by prayer and incense. A procession is made through each house to cense every room. On this evening, too, girls are afraid to spin lest in the morning they should find their distaffs twisted, the threads broken, and the yarn in confusion. (We shall meet with like superstitions during the Twelve Nights.) At midnight the girls practise a strange ceremony: they go to a willow-bordered brook, cut the bark of a tree partly away, without detaching it, make with a knife a cross on the inner side of the cut bark, moisten it with water, and carefully close up the opening. On New Year's Day the cutting is opened, and the future is augured from the markings found. The lads, on the other hand, look out at midnight for a mysterious light, the Luzieschein, the forms of which indicate coming events.6

"In Denmark, too, St. Lucia's Eve is a time for seeing the future. Here is a prayer of Danish maids: “Sweet St. Lucy let me know: whose cloth I shall lay, whose bed I shall make, whose child I shall bear, whose darling I shall be, whose arms I shall sleep in.”7"

Notes from Miles:

1. H. F. Feilberg, “Jul” (Copenhagen, 1904), i. 165, 170. Return

2. Ibid. i. 169 f. Return

3. Ibid. i. 171. Return

4. L. Caico, “Sicilian Ways and Days” (London, 1910), 188 f. Return

5. O. von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld, “Das festliche Jahr der germanischen Völker” (2nd Edition, Leipsic, 1898), , 434. Return

6. Ibid. 434 f. Return

7. J. Grimm, “Teutonic Mythology” (Eng. Trans. by J. S. Stallybrass, London, 1880-8), , iv. 1867. Return

Additional Notes from The Text:

94 A. This custom may be compared with the Scotch eating of sowans in bed on Christmas morning. Return

95 B. In a legend of the saint she is said to have plucked out her own eyes when their beauty caused a prince to seek to ravish her away from her convent. Return

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