Thursday 13 January 2011

St. Knut's Day - The Last Day of Christmas in Sweden

Today is the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers but in Sweden it is celebrated as the Twentieth Day of Christmas and the feast day of St. Knut (Tjugondag Knut). Other countries may celebrate the twelve days of Christmas ending on the 6th of January but in Scandanavia we celebrate the twenty days of Christmas ending today. Today was obviously a special day in ancient times because the feast day of St. Hilary gives the name to the whole academic term in many Universities and even in some Legal Systems around the world. It is also interesting that the liturgical season of Christmas that once lasted a whole forty days until Candlemas on the 2nd of February was shortened to the twenty days and ended on 13th January in the new rubrics of Blessed Pope John XXIII (VIII De Anni Temporibus N. 72).

The St. Knut who is celebrated was King Knut or Canute IV of Denmark, which, in those days, included Sweden and Norway too. His uncle had been the King Canute who also ruled England so the era we are talking about is the end of the Viking era and the beginning of the modern (and Christian) era in Scandanavia. The feast isn't really celebrated in Denmark maybe because Canute was very ambitious and warlike and the nobles of Denmark, who elected his half-brother to be king before Canute, were tired of the war and war taxes that he introduced. He attempted to invade England to regain his uncle's crown and he assembled the last Viking army and fleet ever to be assembled but delay meant that the invasion wasn't a success.

However, the feast is an important day in the calendar of Norway and Sweden. King Canute was a devout Catholic who strongly supported the Church. He was martyred in the year 1086. There was some interesting research some years ago on his bones buried in the Cathedral of Odense on the Island of Funen, where he was martyred. It showed that he died of a single wound from the sacrum through the abdomen and with no signs of struggle, seeming to confirm the account of his death without a struggle from a lance wound. Soon after his death King Canute's reputation for holiness and the miracles reported to happen at his grave caused him to be regarded as a saint. His reputation became so great that in 1101 Pope Pascal II recognised public devotion to him.

However, this day isn't really his feast day, which is in July but it is the day that he is remembered because it is the last of the twenty days that he decreed should be celebrated as the Christmas season. It is another date in the Christian Calendar that we Swedes celebrate but in a different way and at a different time, like the feast of All Souls and how we celebrate the eve of Christmas and the eve of Easter and the eve of St. Walpurga's Day.

As usual with Swedish feasts, there are special songs. One tells us the meaning of the feast:

På Tjugondag Knut dansas julen ut och då plundras och kasseras granen.

This translates to "on St. Knut’s day, dance Christmas away and then plunder and scrap the spruce tree".

On this day we obey the law of St. Knut by plundering the Christmas tree of its decorations (especially the chocolate ones!) and drive out Christmas by throwing the Christmas tree out (usually through the window) and singing that rhyme. We also knock on the walls to scare out any Jultomten who are hiding in the house! Sometimes there is a man dressed as “Knut” in a kind of crazy ragged costume who helps to sweep out Christmas.

Another song of St. Knut's Day was written by Sigrid Sköldberg-Pettersson and reminds me of the frog song for St. John's Day: It's really a song that is sung during the whole Christmas season (starting from St. Lucy's Day) but the last verse is especially about today.

Raska fötter springa tripp, tripp, tripp!
Mamma har så bråttom klipp, klipp, klipp!
Juleklappar lackas in.
Dörren stängs för näsan din.
Det är bara roligt.

Pappa har gått ut i sta'n, sta'n, sta'n;
Köper där en präktig gran, gran, gran.
Den skall hängas riktigt full,
Först en stjärna utav gull,
Nötter sen och äpplen

Se nu är ju allting klart, klart, klart.
Barnen rusa in med fart, fart, fart.
Vem står där i pappas rock?
Jo, det är vår julebock.
Han har säkert klappar.

Alla barnen ropa: "Ack, ack, ack;
Snälla rara pappa, tack, tack, tack"!
Margit får en docka stor.
Gungehäst får lille bror.
Stina får en kälke.

Snart är glada julen slut, slut, slut.
Julegranen bäres ut, ut, ut.
Men till nästa år igen
Kommer han vår gamle vän,
Ty det har han lovat.

This translates to:

Rushing feet run tripp, tripp, tripp!
Mother is so busy cut, cut, cut.
Christmas gifts are wrapped.
The door is closed before your nose.
But it is all fun.

Daddy has gone to town, town, town;
To buy a grand Christmas tree, tree, tree.
It is going to be well-decorated,
first a star of gold,
followed by nuts, and apples.

Look, everything is done, done, done.
The children rush in with speed, speed, speed.
Who is standing there in father's coat?
Yes, it is our Christmas goat.
I'm sure he's got presents.

All the children shout Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Dear Daddy, thanks, thanks, thanks!
Margit has got a big doll.
Rocking horse for little brother.
Stina gets a toboggan.

Soon the lovely Christmas is at an end, end, end.
The Christmas tree is carried out, out, out.
But next Christmas once again
Our old friend will return.
Because he promised!

There really isn't a good choice on YouTube for this song but this is the best. The second song is about the arrival of the snow... so a real Autumn song in Sweden!


Anonymous said...


Donnelly's Hollow said...

This is a very beautiful post. I especially like the way that you continue to honour God and His Saints in your National life.

Anka said...

Thank you both!
Actually the thought behind these posts, or one of the many thoughts, has been to show just that; how Sweden - possibly the most secular country in the world - still celebrates religious holidays and how they are a natural part of the year without being considered offensive or bad to anyone.

Random Thinker said...

The lovely songs are what stand out for me in the posts every time. Sweden must be a country full of song. I'd never really thought about that before.

Anonymous said...

Jag läser gärna dina kommentarer på tullen i Sverige. Min favorit tid på året är alltid från Lucia dag till Knuts dag. Jag tror att Sverige firar jul bättre än något annat land i hela världen. Vi förtjänar verkligen att vara tackade genom hela världen. Tack Anka! ;-x

Fitzy said...

Another good one. Love the plundering the tree!

Anka said...

Another plunder just around the corner - Muahahahahahaha!