Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saint Lucia and Kaarsjesavond

 Last night I was in Gouda with a new-found friend. What we didn't know when planning to meet there is that yesterday, 13 of December, was Saint Lucy's night and "Kaarsjesavond" (literally, "the night of the candles") in Gouda. There was a giant lit Christmas tree, and the beautiful castle-like building that is city hall was completely lit with candles from within, as were the houses around the main square.There was a band, a choir and a rather small Christmas market.  This holiday is celebrated in Gouda since 1956, when Gouda received for the first time a giant tree from its sister city Kongsberg, in Norway. It is a holiday in honor of Santa Lucia, in a day that was believed to be the longest night of the year, coinciding with Winter Solstice. The origins of this celebration are not very clear:

The pre-Christian holiday of Yule, or jól, was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings, but also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark. Lussinata, the Lussi Night, was on December 13 as well. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was riding through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda. This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western and Central Europe. Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatta to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits might come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water. (1)

St. Lucy by Domenico di Face Beccafumi
Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Saint Lucia or Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint  by Roman Catholic Church, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December; with a name derived from Lux, Lucis meaning "Light", as she is the patron saint of those who are blind. According to the "Guilte Legende", a widespread and influential compendium of saint's biographies compiled in the late Middle Ages: She was seeking help for her mother's long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucy became a devout Christian, refused to compromise her virginity in marriage and was denounced to the Roman authorities by the man she would have wed. They threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking, insisting that her death would lessen the fear of it for other Christians and bring grief to non-believers. In another story, Saint Lucy was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. 
Found here
There is little evidence that the legend itself derives from the folklore of northern Europe, but the similarities in the names ("Lussi" and "Lucia"), and the date of her festival, December 13, suggest that two separate traditions may have been brought together in the modern-day celebrations in Scandinavia. (2)

First image from here. (I forgot to bring our camera, and anyway it is no good for pictures in the dark.)(1) from this article and (2) from this one.


  1. "She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. "

    On the way back to the station, there were those people with lights attached to their head. The ones with the illuminated arrows pointing the way back. Now I think I know where that comes from.

    It sure was a pretty sight, all in all.

  2. Sounds really great, nice, traditional... as always

  3. Lucía...Lucio...Lucas...Luka : "El que trae la luz" :)
    Siempre me encantó el festival de Santa Lucía. Recuerdo haber visto los festejos en la televisión cuando era niña y me fascinaba ver ese cielo tan oscuro tan temprano y todas las niñas vestidas de blanco con sus coronas de velas...

  4. A proposito, el hecho que te hayas "encontrado" de casualidad con el festival de Santa Lucia el dia despues de tu laparoscopia para mí es una señal :)

  5. @ thesmittenimmigrant, it was a pretty sight for sure :) and a nice chat :) Funny that you saw people with the light "crowns".

    @ Zarawitta, yeah, I am so much into finding the origins of traditions, because often (like it happened in Mexico for every single thing) folklore involves the mix and superimposition of more than one culture.

    @ Marcela, si, de verdad es bonito, e impactante, y me encanta el mensaje, despues de la oscuridad, viene la luz. Y si, yo también pensé que era una señal. Oh Lucia a ver cuando llega ;)


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