Sunday, 13 December 2015


Early Winter afternoon on Hammarby Sound

The scenery outside my apartment should by now be well known to you. I am almost getting blasé about it myself, but this view captivated me. I took the picture a week ago; I felt that it embodied the "loong farewell" of a dying year. 

The last few months have been busy, leaving me scant time to please you with pictures from my balcony. You probably have noticed, from e-mails, Facebook, Google+ and otherwise, that the grand task during this time was to introduce my new book "Stockholm/Brussels". Wide did I range to accomplish this: from the golden hills of California to the much greener ones in south-eastern Austria; and from there to the autumn cold of Brussels. Finally, news of the book reached Stockholm, where I held a "vernissage" cum book presentation last month.

Book signing at the Stockholm event (Photographer: Andreas Cars)

But the end of the year is approaching, as the title picture tells us; time to get in contact with you again, my patient readers! Today's theme is light, or rather, the lack of it in this region far to the North, as far as Kodiak in Alaska in fact. Throughout the centuries, people living here have nurtured a feeling of loss and depression as the sun keeps gradually disappearing in December, feelings that have to be countered and subdued with all kinds of ritual and ceremony.

Sofia Church on 18 November at 3.15 pm

For you Southerners, who may have difficulties understanding our concerns, I think a picture (or two) can tell it better than a thousand words. The above picture shows you the last rays of the sun caressing Sofia Church above Hammarby Sound at 3.15 pm on 18 November, some years ago. So far so good, there was still warm light to savour in mid-afternoon. Even the sky around the church on top of the hill remained illuminated by the dying sun, as the picture is bearing witness.

Now take a look at the same church about a month later and at around the same time in the afternoon; depressing, isn't it?

Ibid about a month later at 3.20 pm

How to cope with this depressing darkness? The early Christian Church knew what it was doing when placing the birth of Christ at Winter Solstice. By partly supplanting, partly incorporating heathen rites it promised the Northern population that light would be reborn, since this was foreboded, so to speak, in the birth of our Creator. But heathen rites have a tendency to linger on, under the thin veneer of Christianity. For instance, in Sweden, Xmas gifts are not brought by Child Jesus or the three Holy Magi, as in Catholic countries; instead, Yule Goat is by tradition placed under the Christmas Tree as bearer of the gifts. Some towns in Sweden, as for instance, Gävle, even place a gigantic straw Yule Goat on their main square at Christmas Time, to be set on fire by ignominious youth before New Year.

  A newly raised Julbock in Gävle           ... already burning (Gävlebocken Webcam)

Furthermore, just as the Anglosaxons have re-paganised Saint Nicholas, an Egyptian Bishop, turning him into a fatty and bearded senior citizen traveling with reindeers, the Lutheran Swedes, having also foregone our catholic saints, have adapted Sancta Lucia to their own traditional beliefs. Lucia, the Sicilian virgin, is in catholic countries usually painted carrying a bowl in her hands with her eyes in it; up here in the North she has been transformed into a Demigoddess and Bearer of Light. At the shortest day of the year, a young girl is chosen as her Avatar, striding, accompanied by other reconfigured saints, through admiring crowds with candles in her hair and singing a Sicilian song with distinct Swedish text. She assures us Northerners that light will return to Earth, at a day when the sun is hardly managing to rise above the horizon.

    A Swedish Lucia (Source: Anna Linda)      The catholic Saint (Painter: Beccafumi)

You object that S:ta Lucia is celebrated on 13 December, hardly the shortest day of the year? Then take note that Sweden was late in adopting the Gregorian Calendar. Its Julian predecessor had the peculiarity that solstice day migrated over the centuries. Whereas the Birth of Christ was placed at solstice in the beginning of the Christian era, Winter Solstice gradually retraced its steps in the Julian Calendar to arrive on about 13 December in the 16th Century. There it has remained, at least in Swedish folklore, until present days.

Now comes the interesting part of Lucia's story. Just like Santa Claus, who is conquering the globe from his base in America, the Swedish Lucia is now also starting to colonise the Western world. You don't believe it? Well, I have proof. Look at this statue, to be found in the Spanish town of Santa Lucia de Tirajana (on Gran Canaria), standing just outside the town's church. This is a true representation of the Swedish version, complete with Staffan Stalledräng, her companion (the latter another Swedish transformation of a catholic saint, this time of St. Stephens). How can this be?

Swedish Lucia colonising Gran Canaria

It turns out that Santa Lucia is twinned with Luleå, a Swedish city far to the North. As a token of friendship between the two cities, the above sculpture was raised by the Swedes outside the Spanish church. Furthermore, each year, a Swedish Lucia is sent as Ambassador to Gran Canaria, to participate in the grand festivity on 13 November, the day of Santa Lucia's patron saint. There one can admire a serene procession: a girl dressed in local attire is striding hand in hand with a blond youngster in white, girded in red and with candles in her hair! But, cute as both are to behold, they are out-shined by the "real saint", a grandiose statue being carried along with great aplomb by the devoted congregation!

8 comments: said...

Schönes in Bild und Wort führt zur Heiligkeit. In unserer Kultur ist die christliche Zeitperspektive mit Weihnachten, trotz der weltweiten Horrornachrichten, eine Einladung zum Verweilen im Wohlfühlmilieu. Danke, lieber Emil, für Deine Beiträge in diesem Sinne.

George Osner said...

Beautiful and interesting! I remember my first encounter with Santa Lucia, when I was teaching at a boarding school run by the Iowa branch of the Society of Friends (Quakers)!

Eva said...

Dear Emil,
Thank you very much for your very instructive information about Santa Lucia! Even I as a Swede learnt something new! For me the Lucia day is an opportunity to get together with family and friends as well as enjoy some very welcome light in the darkness.

I wish you and the followers of this blog all the best for the 3rd advent and the upcoming Christmas season!

Kind regards
Eva Michaelsson

Anonymous said...

On adore vos photos!
Vos images sont heureuses et source de bonnes et belles ondes!

Famille Langouche

Linda Rosen said...

Love the story and the serene images, Emil. Thank you so much for sharing the photos and the story. I met a mandolin aficionado today (classical, blue grass, and jazz), and he reminded me about Santa Lucia. His daughter wore an electric candelabra because they decided that real candles in her hair would be too dangerous. Wishing you a peaceful holiday season, Emil. Steve sends his love, too.

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil, I am not blasé about your kitchen window view! In fact, every time I see it, I understand why you moved to that flat!
Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Lieber Emil!
Wie schön wieder von Dir zu hören! Möge die 'Lichtbringerin' Menschen auch insofern 'erleuchten' dass zu viel Lärm ein unnötiges Ärgernis ist und Du öfter Deine wohlverdiente Ruhe genießen kannst.

Zu den kommenden Feiertagen alle guten Wünsche und herzliche Grüße,


Anonymous said...

Merci Emil,
Very nice photos – Suppose you will escape from the dark and choose a winter destination full of light?

Wish you a nice end of year and a 2016 with new undertakings.
Best regards,
Anna Marie