Artist: Elsa Nilsson
Album: Dark Is Light Is
Label: Bumblebee Collective
Year Of Release: 2020
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
01. När Juldagsmorgon Glimmar
02. Hej Tomtegubbar Slå I Glasen
03. Sankta Lucia
04. När Det Lider Mot Jul
05. Nu Tändas Tusen Juleljus
07. Så Mörk Är Natten
There’s a lot to love about regional holidays. The traditions that spring up can tell us so much about the spirit of a culture. My favorite Swedish holiday is a December holiday called Lucia. Every year on December 13th, winter solstice in the Julian Calendar, the whole city would smell like saffron. The lussekatter, Lucia Cats, are a beautiful golden pastry filled with saffron and shaped like a curly S with a raisin in the center of each circle. They are only supposed to be eaten on that day, but of course they are everywhere for weeks before. The name Lucia comes from the latin Lux, which means light, and in essence it is the celebration of light in the midst of the darkest time of the year. It is a combination of celebrating the catholic saint and viking traditions.
When I was a kid, every year on Lucia I had multiple concerts and I loved it. I loved that music was at the center of this holiday. There was so much ceremony and reverence around this set of songs. Everyone wore long white robes, and around our waists we would tie a red ribbon symbolizing the blood of Saint Lucia (she was a martyr, dying for her belief) or silver glitter if we were Tärnor. The guys would wear golden cone-shaped hats and carry golden stars on the top of a stick. The younger kids would carry electric candles and it was a rite of passage to graduate to the real candles. The girl portraying Lucia would wear a crown of candles in her hair. You would practice by walking with a book balanced on your head to walk level and avoid getting candle wax in your hair.
Even the south of Sweden, where I grew up, is very dark for much of the year. I loved Lucia because I loved the idea of music being the thing that brings light into our lives, even in the darkest times. December would come and suddenly there would be lights in every window, overnight. Every year I would look forward to it, and even though I knew it was coming the beauty of it all would surprise me. It felt like community.
December is the month I feel the most homesick for Sweden. I’ve been living in the US for 15 years now, and the holidays don’t feel the same here. So to hold on to my tradition, in my own way, I wrote these arrangements of the Swedish Lucia songs. Some of them are only sung on December 13th, but some of them are around for the whole holiday season. My band and I have been playing these in clubs around New York City for 8 years. We have developed these arrangements over time, a few new ones added each year. We’ve played them at Rockwood Music Hall, Cornelia Street Cafe (just weeks before they shut their doors for good), and at the 55 Bar. This year, because Covid, we will not be performing them for a live audience for the first time in 8 years. Instead, we made this record so we can celebrate at a distance.