Danish Language Blog

Santa Lucia Posted by on Dec 13, 2011 in Culture, Traditions

Lights off. Everyone is fidgetting in anticipation, stealing glimpses of friends’ silhouettes in the dusk of the room. Suddenly a clear note breaks the silence, then another; the ringing sound of young girls’ voices echoes through the shadows and becomes a song: Nu bæres lyset frem… Now the light is carried forth… Enters the choir, five or six girls walking in a row, all clad in white robes. In their right hand they carry a white candle, illuminating the darkness while they sing. The foremost girl carries a garland on her head, from which four or more candles are towering. The audience is struck with awe.

A similar scene takes place in Danish children’s schools and kindergartens every year on December 13, the Luciadag. A relatively fresh tradition in Denmark – it seems to have been introduced from neighbouring Sweden in the 1940’ies – it has nothing to do with Christmas. ”Santa Lucia”, the children sing repeatedly in the refrain. Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia. As you may know, Denmark is mostly a Protestant country, and there are no saints in Protestantism. So what’s going on?

Historically, the tradition goes back to a Sicilian woman who became executed because of her Christian faith around the year 200 A.D. But very few Danes actually know the story. As with other imported traditions (like Halloween), what really matters to people is the act, not the explanation or cause. In the dark, Nordic winters the whole world is yearning for light – and then come those little girls (and occasionally boys) carrying flames…

The Lucia procession is called a luciaoptog, and the girl with the krans (garland) is the luciabrud or ’Lucia bride’. Luciasangen (the Lucia song) exists in various languages; here you can see the one the Danish children sing:

Nu bæres lyset frem
Now the light is carried forth
stolt på din krone
proudly on your crown
rundt om i hus og hjem
about in house and home
sangen skal tone
the song shall sound
nu på Lucia-dag
now in the Lucia day
hilser vort vennelag
our company of friens is greeting
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia

Her ved vor ønskefest
Here at our wish party
sangen skal klinge
the song shall sound
gaver til hver en gæst
presents for every guest
glad vil du bringe
you will bring happily
skænk os af lykkens væld
pour us from the well of happiness
lige til livets kvæld
right to life’s eve
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.