December 13, 2007

Santa Lucia, Santa Claus...

Just back from Sweden and today being December 13, I thought I should again make a post related to the day and the season – also as a special homage to our dear blogger friend Cergie, also known as Marguerite, whose real name is Lucie.

December 13 is the day of Santa Lucia (Sankta Lucia, Saint Lucy, Sainte Lucie…), much celebrated in the Nordic countries (although rather being protestant than catholic). Before the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 16th century, St. Lucy's Day fell on the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and was thus the darkest day of the year. Together with advent, it means today really the beginning of the Christmas celebrations.

Originally celebrated privately at home, later at working places, you find since the beginning of the 20th century also nationally or regionally elected “Lucias” visiting shopping malls, old people’s homes.... Santa Lucia is represented by a young girl or lady in white clothes with a crown of candles, ahead of a procession of other women holding a candle each. (Painting by Carl Larsson, via Google.)

This is of course a symbolic illustration (pic via Google) of light overcoming darkness and the candles originally symbolized the fire that refused to take the real St. Lucy's life when she was sentenced to be burned. Santa Lucia and her accompanying girls or ladies are supposed to perform the originally Neapolitan Santa Lucia song - with adapted words. In general some specific cakes and “glögg” – the Nordic version of mulled wine (heated red wine, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, raisins, almonds…) - is served. Santa Lucia is not an official holiday, but work may not be very extremely efficient in Sweden today.

Related to Christmas, this brings me to say something about some decorations (whereof this is a detail) which can be found on a building, close to where my mother lives in my native Gothenburg (Göteborg). This house, built in the late 19th century, used to belong to the editor of the leading local newspaper, a certain Mr. Hedlund. One of his close collaborators was a writer called Viktor Rydberg, who in 1871 wrote a by all Swedes well known poem about the “tomte” (Christmas gnome).

The poem was illustrated by a 17 year old art student, called Jenny Nyström and her “tomte”, which you still can find on Christmas postcards, is clearly the model for the Swedish version of Father Christmas.

It is supposed that Haddon Sundblom, born in Michigan to a Swedish-speaking immigrant family, may have got some inspiration from her when he created the famous Coca Cola version around 1920.

He was of course also inspired by the different already existing American Santa Claus images, more particularly by the one created by the German born Thomas Nast in 1863.

The house decorations we see here below are in any case clearly inspired by the Jenny Nyström “tomte”, but they represent rather the different activities of the family owners - editors, journalists, photographers…


lyliane said...

Ce n'est pas bien de copier sur les copines, tu triches, j'ai publié hier la même photo et le même commentaire que le tien !!!ça alors les grands esprits se rencontrent. Enfin tu parles des coutumes de ton pays, je suis allée chez Ikéa me chercher une bouteille de Glögg, car merci mille fois, tu as ramené avec toi le froid, la neige va suivre je l'espère.

Cuckoo said...

Welcome back and what an informative post you have brought, Peter !! Being a Hindu, never knew things in this detail.


Drama Div@ said...

I like your post, very informative and great photos...

hpy said...

Welcome home to France. I was thinking about Lucia. It is rather strange that Lucia is celebrated in Sweden but not in Finland, except among the Swedish speaking population. What about Norway and Denmark? Iceland? Is Lucia a purely napolitanoscandinavian happening? And are the Finns a bunch of heathens?

Delphinium said...

Ben j'apprends plein de choses en surfant sur les blogs. Et je vois des choses similaires aussi, ce qui prouve que les bloggeurs ne radotent pas (cf le post chez Lyliane hier):-)
C'est marrant mais en Suisse, il ne me semble pas que les gens fêtes la Sainte-Lucie. La Saint-Nicolas oui mais pas la Sainte-Lucie.
Et je déconseille fortement à Lucie de mettre une telle couronne sur sa tête, ça va encore lui cramer ses cheveux et ça va sentir le brûlé. :-)

Anonymous said...

Our loved Martta Wendelin and Rudolf Koivu are like your Jenny Nyström.
I learned two new words again a bunch and a heathen, but I don`t feel, that I could or should or would belong to any of those ;))

Thank you for this post, it is as excellent as earlier!

Matritensis said...

Hi Peter welcome back!
Santa Cecilia is the protective one of the blind persons, photographers and designers in Spain

Anonymous said...

I was surpruised, frankly, to find you had visited my blog and commented about the hawk photos there. Thanks. I had forgotten, until I got here and read this post, that you were home in Sweden for a week or more.

I did, in fact, enjoy this post a lot. In fact, of those in the past that dealt with other things, this one brings in the human side so much nicer, to me, and I appreciated it more, perhaps more than most, because I am well aware of Nast and others you have portrayed.

The house you featured and the pictures on it bring up a question that I either missed in your story, or, wasn't there. Are the illustrations paintings, or mosaics or tiles? It is well done and I liked the way you tied those in with the rest of the story about Christmas and the important role this artist made in the story of and history of Santa Claus.

I was also impressed, in the beginning with how your got Lucie in the tale. Clever work.

This is an impressive post, Peter, and one to be especially proud of.

Thanks, again, for the visit to my blog.

Lucie said...

Dis donc, tu es en pleine forme, Peter ! Et que de liens sur ce message si documenté éclairé et foisonnant de tes lumières
Je te remercie pour le lien tout en haut.
OH ! Cela me touche
(J'espère que tu as ramené une couronne et des bougies pour moi)
Tu es le seul Suédois avec qui je sois encore en rapport (dans ma folle jeunesse, j'en ai rencontrés et ce sont des fripons), alors revenir avec un message sur la Ste Lucie cela s'imposait
Tu as souffert de la longue nuit d'hiver ?
A quelle heure le soleil se lève-t-il à Göteborg, à quelle heure se couche-t-il ? Que dit le calendrier des postes de là haut près du pôle où habite le père Noël ?

Olivier said...

pour un retour, voila un retour en force. bravo pour ce post, mais certaine partie me rappelle un autre blog ;o)).

Tout cela pour draguer mademoiselle cergie, quand même peter ;o).

Merci de nous présenter toutes ces illustrations

Richard in Zurich said...

Welcome back Peter. This is a post with lots to digest in it, and I apologise for a quick comment while I'm waiting in the airport for yet another trip. I noticed immediately the reference to Rydberg, and I knew the name from some of Sibelius most personal song settings - especially the recordings I have somewhere with Kirsten Flagstaad. Thank you, I'm going to look them out. Isn't blogging great?

Zurich Daily Photo

Ash said...

Great to have you back Peter!! Welcome!!!

Lovely post, as always!!

'Through-JoAnn's-Digital-Eyes' said...

Hi Peter, Welcome back!
It wouldn't be you to write such a great history story, ou visited already my blog .

...I posted for a change that HUGH (international) 'my tree':), did you like this kind? :)...

"wink" Greetings JoAnn

Nathalie said...

Welcome back Peter,
I really enjoyed this post about St Lucy, both text and illustrations are excellent.

In Swedish, do you call your birth town Göteborg or Gothenburg? I thought it was the first but I got confused when I read you.

Many thanks for your visit in Avignon, I think you could borrow the idea and start writing your own story. Paris certainly offers a great setting for any story!

Peter said...

Je jure de ne pas avoir vu ton blog avant de préparer mon post!

Good, than my "teaching" brought something to someone!

drama div@:
Happy to see this comment!

isabella said...

Did you notice how the "tomte" gained weight after crossing the ocean into Michigan ;-)

Welcome back, Peter! Great post!

Peter said...

You can find more exact answers if you check Wikipedia. Why do you ask if the Finns are a bunch of heathens? (No need to check in Wikipedia.)
Now, I have to say something nice about Finland also: There were a lot of Finnish flags in Gothenburg December 6! I took some photos, but will not make a post of it.

A toi, je vais répondre (HPY doit chercher en Wikipedia). Ste Lucie sous cette forme est essentiellement célebrée en Scandinavie (et la Finlande n'est pas un pays scandinave, mais un pays nordique). La lumière manque (en hiver)!

I don't think you are part of that kind of bunch!

Peter said...

You learn every day!

Thanks a lot for this long comment! Yes, with these compliments from you, I feel proud (at least for a while)!
Regarding the technique for the wall decorations, I believe it's just painted.

Beaucoup de questions:
Pas de couronne dans mes bagages (voir les commentaires de delphinium)!
Pour la durée de la journée, je n'ai pas la réponse exacte, mais Goeteborg se trouve dans le sud de la Suède; ce n'est pas la nuit totale, peut-être une heure ou deux de moins?
Pour la Poste, je dois chercher une réponse, mais j'ai l'impression que les finlandais (finnois) ont un peu monpolisé le Papa Noël depuis quelques années!

Peter said...


Impressed about your knowledge of Nordic culture (if any)!!!

Sincere thanks!

Peter said...

"Winks" also to you!!

Gothenburg in Swedish is Göteborg = the fortress of the goths. There seeme even to be a French version (never used): Gothembourg!
Thanks for your kindness not to insist on a copyright for your idea!

Nice remark about the weight (actually, the "tomte" was (is) a very tiny little person)!

Noushy Syah said...

yeyy!! Welcome back Peter!

This is the advantages of blogging...we got knowledge that sometimes you can't get either in college or Univ.

Enjoyed reading this informative entry of yours with gr8 pics.

p/s How's your mum/fmly back home?

Sonia said...

I enjoyed this post, Peter! You did a good job here, as always!

About Santa Lucia, did you know the Britt-Arnhild's blog? Her blog was one of the first I have been visiting since I begin to blogging.
Her daughter Marta every year dressed as Santa Lucia. If you have the time, take a look on
Britt-Arnhild's House in the Woood. Britt-Arnhild is from Norway.

Jessica Camis said...

Welcome back! I enjoyed seeing the picture of the girl dressed for Santa Lucie. I remember reading a book when I was younger, one of the American Girl books, in which the character celebrated this holiday. It had a picture of her dressed in white with the candles on her head and I always thought it was a beautiful image. It was extremely pleasing to see a real girl dressed this way and reminded me of the book I read so many times.

I'm amused by the Christmas gnome. What a funny institution. I've never heard of that before and you have spawned me to do to additional research. So thanks you.

And thanks, as always, for the excellent and educational post.

Chuckeroon said...

Peter, I especially liked the St. Lucia piece. In spite of the large number of comments it's worth adding it yet again. usual tks for your comment on R u T. You're exactly right about the "mosquito infested" wet land....right now, that's where I would prefer to be!!! As Richard says..."this blooging's great" (but it is indeed time consuming).

Maria O. Russell said...

Was not Sweden Catholic in the Middle Ages? At least that's what it says in my "Cooking of Scandinavia" cookbook that my father gave me so long ago. Maybe the day of Saint Lucia dates from that time? What an adorable post, Peter! Muchas gracias.