It’s that time of year when people greet each other with more than a simple ‘Hej’ (hello), or ‘tjena’ (hi). There are various ways to do it, depending on the day, and it is a bit confusing for the uninitiated.
The last time you see somebody before Christmas, you say ‘God Jul’ (Merry Christmas). This is assuming Christmas is close of course, and does not apply if the last time you see somebody is October. ‘God Jul’ continues through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Around Boxing Day, the greeting changes to ‘God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation).
Then, around Dec 30/31, ish, it changes to ‘Gott Slut’ (Good Ending) before changing to ‘Gott Nytt År’ (Happy New Year) at the strike of midnight on Jan 1st.
’God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation) takes over again around Jan 2 and then fizzles out after two weeks. The absolute final date for any form of festive greeting is Jan 13th. This day is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ and is when Christmas is over in Sweden and the Christmas tree and decorations are traditionally thrown out. After that, it’s back to ’Hej’ again.
So as today is Dec 27, I’d like to wish you all a ‘God Fortsättning’.
According to meteorologists, Stockholm has had ZERO hours of sunlight in December. The rest of the country hasn’t been much better. Thankfully, tomorrow, 13 Dec, is Santa Lucia Day in Sweden. At this darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines much-needed light into the dark depths of our tired souls. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.
Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. 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, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. Officials 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. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.
The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brought to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current custom of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century. The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press.
Today schools select a Lucia among the students. This is usually a girl, but on occasion boys have been elected. This sidestep from tradition has caused conservatives to foam at the mouth.
The Lucias visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread. This year, of course, things will be different. Concerts have been cancelled, or will be broadcast digitally, and any physical Lucia visits will be carried out with appropriate social distance, and probably outdoors.
So, it might be a dark time in human history, and it is certainly dingy outside, but remember – after darkness comes the light. And this year, we need it more than ever.
Today is Nobel Day when the winners of the five Nobel prizes are celebrated. This year is a digital ceremony and the usual concert and grand banquet have been cancelled to avoid crowding.
But how did the Nobel prizes come about? Well, the story goes like this. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up one day to his own obituary in the newspaper. Mistakenly, the paper had declared him dead, when in fact it was his brother. As a title for the obituary, the newspaper had written a rather unflattering ‘The angel of death is dead‘. The journalist also wrote that Alfred Nobel had made it possible to kill more people than anyone who had ever lived.
Suddenly Alfred Nobel understood this is how he would be remembered and, to change it, he founded the Nobel Prizes. Now his name is synonymous with science, literature and peace.
It makes for an interesting reflection. If you could read your own obituary, would you be proud of what you read? Would you also change your behaviours to influence the memory of you? And, if that’s the case – why not get out there and do it now?