Culture

Bringing Light On The Shortest Day

By Bernie Bell

Pics by Fran Hollinrake

The feast of St. Lucy on the 13th of December got me wondering about the origin of the Lucy poem which is spoken every year at the Lucy Service in St. Magnus Cathedral.  Who better to ask than Fran Hollinrake, Custodian of the Cathedral.

Fran is what’s needed in a custodian – interested, helpful, friendly, informed and informative. 

And Fran answered…….

“The poem seems to have been written by Myra Cohn Livingston – it’s called  “The Feast of St Lucy: Luciadagen” and is one of several she wrote for her collection “Festivals” in 1996.

BUT her poem does not include the first/last stanza, ‘Now, light one thousand Christmas lights…..to make the dark sky bright’ – that seems to have been culled from a Christmas carol.

The buns are also interesting. The saffron element reference golden light, which fits with the Lucy narrative. Part of her hagiography says that she secretly took provisions to Christian prisoners in the Roman catacombs, and she wore a head-dress of candles to enable her to carry more food.  So there’s the light, and there is also a food connection.

In Sweden, the buns are called Lussekatten, which means ‘Lucy’s cats’, and in one version I read, the curled up shape is supposed to be a sleeping cat, and the currants are its eyes. So….there is the eye connection (Lucy is supposed to have had her eyes poked out, either by herself or a spurned suitor), she is Patron Saint of the Blind, after all. But the cat connection is more difficult to explain. There seems to be a bit of a cross-over with a Nordic witch called a Lussi, and the ‘longest night’ traditions revolved around staying in, lighting fires, and hiding from evil spirits! Someone wrote this: https://www.norwegianamerican.com/on-the-darkest-day-a-tale-of-two-lucys/

And there may also be a connection with Freya, Norse goddess, whose chariot was pulled by cats.

The recipe I used was the BBC Good Food one – just because of what I had in, I used plant-based milk and ‘butter’ and it all worked beautifully. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/st-lucia-saffron-buns. A Swedish friend advised grinding the saffron with  little of the sugar, to distribute it better, which I did.

And what better to mark  the shortest day?

See also: St Lucy from ‘behind the desk’…a Custodian’s view

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