We didn’t originally plan on having our performance on St. Lucia Day, but it just happened to turn out that way. We decided to make the most of it and incorporate an arrangement of “Sankta Lucia” into our program. Thanks to the music of our artistic director Barlow Bradford and the lyric interpretation of our vocal coach Michael Chipman, we will sing a lovely rendition for you on December 13th.
If you are unfamiliar with the tradition of St. Lucia, you might want to read this little background provided by one of our (Swedish) sopranos, Linda Bergstrom:
In the early morning, on Dec. 13th, the oldest daughter in the family brings to the sleeping parents a basket or plate filled with Lussekattor, or Lucia Bread (there are tons of recipes out there online for all of you Swedes). Frankly, over the years and as our girls have become teenagers and beyond, we are lucky to get a bagel thrown at us with a “Happy Lucia Day” while they run out the door. But we keep plugging along with it. Tradition holds that the other girls in the family wear a white robe and a tinsel wreath, and Lucia wears the white robe with the red sash and the candle wreath with 7 candles. The boys are sadly relegated to wearing what can only be described as a dunce cap.
The origins of the tradition started in Sicily around 304 A.D. The legend says that Lucia’s mother was wealthy and had been cured of a disease by St. Agatha. Lucia was a Christian and persuaded her mother to distribute her wealth to the poor as thanks for this great miracle, which they did by secretly going around the city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the dark by candle-lit wreaths. Not a great idea, since we all know how Christians were persecuted at that time. So to add more drama, a young man that Lucia was engaged to became upset at the distribution of her dowry and denounced her. She was ordered to be seized and tortured. They burned her with boiling oil and pitch, though miraculously, nothing could kill her. Finally, her eyes were gouged out and she was killed with a sword. Pretty gory stuff. Remember, she was just around the age of 12 or 13. From what I have read, her martyrdom is recorded in an inscription in Syracuse. So the white dress represents her sainthood and purity, and the red sash represents her martyrdom and violent death.
December 13th is the longest night of the year in Scandinavia, and if you’ve ever been there, you know how dreary it is to have the sun not shining for most of the day — maybe just an hour or two. Under the old Julian calendar (used in Sweden before 1753) it was actually Christmas day, which is why St. Lucia day is celebrated at that time.
The Swedes basically got tired of all the darkness, and somewhere around 1000 A.D., when Christianity arrived there, they snatched the Lucia tradition from Italy. The Swedes have many accounts of Lucia, and one is the same as the Italian tradition, which is that Lucia took food to starving villagers at night. Another tale says that she went at night to a prison and took bread to the prisoners in destitute conditions. Either way, the Lucia tradition has become huge in Sweden. They have many Lucia festivals and crown a Lucia each year, the furor which can only be likened to a Miss America “scholarship pageant” here. She is an ambassador throughout Sweden of good will and service.
If you don’t think you’re familiar with this tune, I think you are. Watch and listen below: