Saturday Single No. 423

One of the bigger events of the year at St. Cloud’s Salem Lutheran Church, the church where my family went when I was growing up (and to which my mom still belongs), is the Santa Lucia service and breakfast, which takes place on December 13. Rooted in the church’s long-standing Swedish tradition, the event marks the beginning of the Christmas season and mirrors similar events on Santa Lucia Day in Sweden (and the other Scandinavian countries).

As Wikipedia notes, “In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, [St. Lucia] is venerated on December 13 in a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. The women sing a Lucia song while entering the room, to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia” . . . [T]he various Scandinavian lyrics are fashioned for the occasion, describing the light with which Lucia overcomes the darkness.”

When I was in high school and a member of the Luther League youth group, we teens were responsible for the annual Lucia Day breakfast (with the help of the women of the church, who provided the cookies, cakes and coffee). We decided which girl from the junior class was going to be Santa Lucia. She would walk through the Fellowship Hall in the basement with a crown of burning candles on her head, the rest of the Luther League trailing behind her, and she would read to the crowd the story of Santa Lucia. A boy from the senior class would read the corresponding story of St. Knut, we’d sing some Christmas carols in badly pronounced Swedish, and everyone would have cookies and coffee cake.

It was a decidedly low-key, though well-attended, event.

Sometime in the last forty-four years – during the 1980s, I think – the adults took over. There’s now a service in the church followed by a breakfast. The program is far more organized (and Lucia’s crown now sports battery-powered candles, not real flame, which is a good thing).* As far as I know, the young folks still elect Lucia, and – in a nod to inclusion – began somewhere along the way to bestow upon a boy the title of St. Knut.

During the mid-1990s, when I attended a Lucia service and breakfast with my folks, I noticed in the program that the event’s organizers had gone back through the years to make a list of all the young women who’d been chosen as Santa Lucia. They’d also made a list of the young men who’d read the story of St. Knut over the years and, ex post facto, decided that they’d all been chosen as St. Knut. So there I was, listed as St. Knut for 1970, my senior year in high school. And I was also listed as St. Knut for 1969, when I read the saint’s story by default, as there were no boys from that year’s senior class in Luther League.

So not only had I been named St. Knut long after the fact, I was a two-time St. Knut.

I wouldn’t have thought more than a moment about any of it as this December 13 rolled around, except that the organizers of this year’s event decided to find and invite all the previous Lucias and Knuts. So one evening last week, I got a call from my sister (Santa Lucia, 1966), who told me that a woman from Salem had called and invited her and would be in touch with me. My sister said the woman had also wondered why I was St. Knut twice.

I laughed and explained that, as far as I’d known at the time, I’d not been St. Knut at all, that it was an honor granted long after the fact. And that’s what I told the woman from Salem the next day. She said she’d not known at all about the after-the-fact honors, and said she hoped I’d come. “After all,” she said, “we need to have our two-timer there.”

I’m not sure that’s the description I’d have used, but I was glad to get the invitation, and early this morning, I’ll be feted at the breakfast with all the Santa Lucias and the other St. Knuts.

And all of that means that the Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia,” sung in Swedish by a choir whose name I do not know (the website where I found the song did not identify the choir) is today’s Saturday Single.

*Having returned from the event, I should report that Santa Lucia does have flaming candles in her crown. For some years, the candles  were electric, but the use of the real thing resumed a while ago.


One Response to “Saturday Single No. 423”

  1. porky says:

    For me, this song is forever associated with the Andy Griffith episode when the townsfolk discover Gomer Pyle has an amazing singing voice.

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