Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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PAGAN SURVIVALS
were not forgotten on this day, but were given special portions. A peculiar feature of the Swedish custom is the presence of lights on Lussi's crown. Lights indeed are the special mark of the festival ; it was customary to shoot and fish on St. Lucy's Day by torchlight, the parlours, as has been said, were brilliantly illu≠minated in the early morning, in West Gothland Lussi went round the village preceded by torchbearers, and in one parish she was represented by a cow with a crown of lights on her head. In schools the day was celebrated with illuminations.S1
What is the explanation of this feast of lights ? There is nothing in the legend of the saint to account for it; her name, however, at once suggests luxólight. It is possible, as Dr. Feilberg supposes, that the name gave rise to the special use of lights among the Latin-learned monks who brought Christianity to Sweden, and that the custom spread from them to the common people. A peculiar fitness would be found in it because St. Lucia's Day according to the Old Style was the shortest day of the year, the turning-point of the sun's light.S2
In Sicily also St. Lucia's festival is a feast of lights. After sunset on the Eve a long procession of men, lads, and children, each flourishing a thick bunch of long straws all afire, rushes wildly down the streets of the mountain village of Montedoro, as if fleeing from some danger, and shouting hoarsely. " The darkness of the night," says an eye-witness, "was lighted up by this savage procession of dancing, flaming torches, whilst bonfires in all the side streets gave the illusion that the whole village was burning." At the end of the procession came the image of Santa Lucia, holding a dish which contained her eyes.* In the midst of the piazza a great mountain of straw had been prepared ; on this everyone threw his own burning torch, and the saint was placed in a spot from which she could survey the vast,bonfire.S3
In central Europe we see St. Lucia in other aspects. In the Bohmerwald she goes round the village in the form of a nanny-goat with horns, gives fruit to the good children, and threatens to rip open the belly of the naughty. Here she is evidently related
* In a legend of the saint she is said to have plucked out her own eyes when their beauty caused a prince to seek to ravish her away from her convent.54
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