Swedish Language Blog

Sankta Lucia! Posted by on Dec 12, 2008 in Culture

Tomorrow’s the celebration of St. Lucia (no, I am NOT talking about that happy island in the Caribbean) but unfortunately, I am not in Sweden and will have to miss it this year. Bummer.

So what’s the big deal with Saint Lucy’s celebration? You know the stuff you hear about Swedes parading with candles (lit candles, no less!) stuck to their heads? Well, St. Lucy’s is the day to do that.

The lady is one of the very few Catholic saints that are celebrated by the Lutheran church. Back in the olden days, her feast coincided with the longest, darkest day of the year, but then when the calendar changed from the unreformed Julian to what we have now, her day ended up on December 13th. The story of St. Lucy is rather gory and I’m not going to tell it here, but if you’re into that sort of stuff – check it out. What you do need to know is that in Latin, her name shares the root with “lux” meaning “light” and that’s the excuse for the candles in the hair that are being sported on St. Lucy’s day in Scandinavia.

Ok, so how does it work really? In English, I think you could say this would be a musical pageant of sorts. In Swedish it is know as “luciatåg” (Lucia train) and it’s taken very seriously. It’s done all over the place – from kindergartens to churches to shopping malls. And of course, the star of the show is the girl (or a young woman) with the candles on her head.

Just watch the clip below, you’ll see what I mean.

And here’s a recap in Swedish:

Luciatågets viktigaste person är lucian. Lucian är en en flicka eller ung kvinna. Under intåget går lucian främst. I sitt följe har hon vanligen 4-20 tärnor som också är flickor eller unga kvinnor och som vanligen följer lucian parvis. Ibland förekommer även stjärngossar som är pojkar eller unga män.

If I remember correctly, there are three different version of the Lucia song, but the version that I am most familiar with is this:

Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuga.
Kring jord som sol´n förgät
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

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.

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.

Have a safe St. Lucy’s celebration! Remember – the lady brings light with her. Soon the days will start getting longer again!

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  1. Kenia:

    Hej Anna!

    Thank you for this nice post.
    I already knew about Sankta Lucia celebration, but I had never read the song, so as usual, we keep learning with your posts.
    But there’s something about the feast that I don’t understand, do swedes wander the streets doing the luciatåg? If it’s like that, I find it really funny and it also must look beautiful to see all those candles lighting the streets in such a dark winter.

    Have a nice day!


  2. Anna:

    Hi Kenia,
    sorry for the late answer. Hehehe, sometimes they do wander the streets, but most likely they wander around schools, shopping malls, churches. There was even luciatåg at the Stockholm Central train station.

  3. Anonymous:

    I think you should translate “Luciatåg” into “Lucia posession”, not “Lucia train”, since it’s not a train on the railroad tracks.