Thursday 6 January 2011

Trettondag Jul - Epiphany in Sweden

The Epiphany, the feast of the Three Holy Kings, known in Swedish as Trettondedag Jul (Thirteenth day of Christmas, just as the day after Christmas Day is Annandag Jul, Second day of Christmas) is the most controversial of our Christian Public holidays. The "Almega" employers union disapproves of the religious theme of the holiday - nothing to do with having to give employees a day off of course!

Public holidays in Sweden are called Röda Dagar (Red Days, just like "red letter days") because the important Church feasts were marked in red in Church calendars. There are 13 Red Days. They are Nyårsdagen (New Year's Day), Trettondedag Jul (Epiphany), Langfredagen (Good Friday), Påskdagen (Easter Monday) Forsta Maj (1st May), Kristi Himmelsfardsdag (Ascension Day), Pingst (Pentecost Sunday) - Annandag Pingst (Pentecost Monday) was a Red Day but was replaced by - Sveriges Nationaldag (Swedish National Day, 6th June), Midsommardagen (Midsummer Day on the Saturday between 20th and 26th June), Alla Helgons Dag (All Saints/Souls Day on the Saturday between 31st October and 6th November), Juldagen (Christmas Day) and Annandag Jul (26th December).

Everyone in Sweden also celebrates a few other days like Julafton (Christmas Eve), Midsommarafton (Midsummer Eve) and Nyårsafton (New Years Eve) as full holidays and Trettondagsafton (Epiphany Eve), Skärtorsdagen (Easter Thursday), Påskafton (Easter Saturday), Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Eve), Kristi Himmelsfärdsdag (Ascension Eve), and Allhelgonaafton (All Saints/Souls Eve) as half holidays. Also, if the Red Day falls on a Tuesday or Thursday we take the Klämdag (squeeze day between the Red Day and the weekend) as a holiday too!

Only 1st May, the Swedish National Day and Midsummer are not Christian Days, unless you include the feast day of St. Joseph the Workman and the election of King Gustavs I Vasa, who founded the Reformation in Sweden, and the feast day of St. John the Baptist as Christian Days!

Back to the Epiphany or Thirteenth Day of Christmas. It was celebrated in Sweden during the Middle Ages with Mystery Plays. It used to be the day that stjärngossar (Star Boys) dressed in white with cone hats with stars on would put on pageants of the journey of the Three Kings to Bethlehem and they would make a procession from house to house. Balthazar carried a star lantern on a pole and Caspar and Melchior would carry swords. The other children dressed as biblical characters. All would go singing songs and hymns and collecting gifts. The most famous of these biblical characters was always Judas in a big beard. The one dressed as Judas would jingle a bag with the 30 pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus.

In Sweden today children dress as stjärngossar on Luciadag (St. Lucy's Day) instead but in a few places in Norway they can still be seen on Epiphany.


Semper Eadem said...

Thank you Anka for all the work you put into these lovely posts. I really enjoy learning about Sweden's Catholic heritage. Do Swedish people not practice the devotion of blessed chalk marking the door posts with 20C+M+B11?

Bless you!

Vincent C said...

Thanks Anka. The Scandanavian social model has a lot to do with your public holidays. It would cause an IBEC revolution here. Maybe that raises an interesting question about the Catholicity of the Scandanavian model. I think we all agree that the IBEC social model of 24/7/365 trading is not a Christian ideal.

Fitzy said...

Love all the Swedish stuff. Must give it a try some time.

Anka said...

Semper Eadem; We don't - I'd never come across it at all til I made Irish friends.
Fitzy; You should! Hmmm....on second sure you do so in summer...