Saint Lucy: the beginning of the Winter Solstice

Leggi in Italiano

December 13 marks the beginning of Christmas in Sweden and Norway, the day on which Saint Lucy is celebrated: a messenger of light just like its name (lux, lucis). In Italy it is said “Saint Lucy the shortest day there is” but in reality it was once, with the old Julian calendar, when the feast fell at the Winter Solstice. The confusion arose with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar which restored time, but eliminated a number of days from the old calendar.


Lucy was a Sicilian Christian girl lived in the last twenty years of the years of 200 BC and rather than marrying a pagan she preferred the martyrdom. In fact, a Lucy was martyred in Syracuse during the persecution of Diocletian, but no one knows how or why.


The popular fantasy has then grafted onto the pseudo-historical narrative the legend that Lucy took her eyes out, qualifying her as a protector of sight; so she is portrayed with the cup that contains her eyes.
The saint is one of the many variants of Demeter the Greek goddess who in the Eleusinian rites was connected to the myth of death and rebirth of Mother Nature (Demeter and Core or Persephone): so at the winter solstice anciently in Sicily (or Magna Graecia) Demeter, the goddess of light, was invoked to bring back the light and abundance of the crops.

St Lucy and the Donky

Before Santa became the international dispenser of gifts for children, it was Saint Lucy who flew over snow-covered fields with a crown of light over her hair, and still today in some regions of Italy (for example in western Trentino, in the Veneto, in the Bergamasco and in the Brianza) Saint Lucy is expected, who passes in the night between 12 and 13 December riding her donkey to bring gifts to the children. To send the impatient children to bed, who wanted to stay awake to see the Saint, they were frightened by saying that she would blind them with the ashes of the fireplace without leaving the gifts. So the saint performs the same functions of the Italian Befana: she rewards good children with small gifts, sweets and nougats, but also dried fruits and oranges, instead she only brings coal for the bad children.
The veneration of the Saint from the South to the North of Italy is linked to the tortuous path of her relics especially in the Middle Ages under the Republic of Venice. The body of the saint, taken in ancient times by the Byzantines in Syracuse, was subsequently stolen by the Venetians when, having left for the Crusades, they sacked Constantinople instead. Today the body is preserved and venerated in the church of San Geremia in Venice.

St Lucy in Sweden and Miss Lucy

Questa immagine ha l'attributo alt vuoto; il nome del file è FMA-Santa-Lucia-2.jpgIn the Scandinavian land also the Lutheran Church celebrates the Saint: in Sweden in her honor, the eldest daughters of the family rise before dawn, dressed in a white nightgown and crowned with branches of holly or ivy and 7 or 12 lighted candles. They bring, helped by the little ones (who represent the stars), the breakfast for the adults of the house, that is black coffee and a special sweet called in Swedish Lussekatt. In theory, sweets should be prepared the same morning, but more often they are only baked those prepared the day before are served. The children line up behind Lucy, the only one with the crown of candles, in procession (luciatåget or Lucy’s train), they sing traditional songs and the inevitable Luciasången.

The custom was born in the 1700s among the upper-middle class families of the area around Lake Vänern, and now it has become the occasion of the election of Miss Lucy, so the cities of Sweden on 12 and 13 December swarm with beautiful girls, in white dressing gowns with a red belt at the waist, who singing the song of Saint Lucy and waving in supermarkets and churches, offering smiles and cookies. So even if the day is not considered a holiday it is as if it were because in schools and offices everything is a luciatåget, traditional choirs and sweets.

Feast of Light

triumph of candles, processions, songs..

Over time so many meanings linked to the solstitial day have been stratified, so the day has remained essentially a feast of light: large bonfires, parades with torches and many ceremonies full of lit candles to symbolize the victory of light over darkness; Lucy is the guardian of the shortest day of the year (and therefore she is blind) but at the same time she is the witnesses the passage of darkness to light, because after the solstice the hours of light gradually begin to increase, thus lengthening the duration of the day !

The song of Saint Lucy (Luciasången), that the Swedes sing with so much fervor, is none other than the very Italian “Santa Lucia” or the Neapolitan song written by Teodoro Cottrau (Neapolitan of French origins if we really want to quibble); the original song has nothing to do with the Saint, but with a popular neighborhood of Naples, watched by the boatman who enjoys the beautiful view from the Gulf of Naples and is moved to see his “Santa Lucia“.

On the song, however, a dispute arose, other sources report that the text was written by Baron Michele Zezza and published by Cottrau as publisher and composer for the musical part, subsequently translated into Italian by Cottrau himself to celebrate the unity of Italy. However, the version that made the song famous worldwide was that of the poet and journalist Enrico Cossovich (1822-1911)

Italian versions: Santa Lucia


Elvis Presley from “Elvis for Everyone” 1965

Sul mare luccica
l’astro d’argento.
Placida è l’onda;
prospero è il vento.
Venite all’agile
Barchetta mia!
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia


The text of the Swedish Saint Lucy is obviously different from the Neapolitan barcarola, all focused on the solstice day: it is the invocation of a heavenly goddess of light so that it descends to earth to make it reborn.

The Scandinavian tradition seems to have begun in 1764, when a priest in Vestergotland said he was awakened, in the middle of the night, by a mysterious song. Upon awakening he saw two young girls dressed in white, one with a silver candelabra lit and the tall woman who was preparing breakfast on the table. Gradually the procession of children from the first homes of the aristocratic families of Skane spread throughout Sweden in churches, schools, hospitals, senior centers and in various workplaces where Lucy and her bridesmaids bring gifts and sing songs .
At the windows there are candle which, with the heat of the flame, make the paper music boxes rotate higher up. Another very common decoration is the crown of wheat decorated with red berries and lighted candles (so as not to forget the bond with Demetra).
Questa immagine ha l'attributo alt vuoto; il nome del file è image.jpegThe tradition had become so popular that in 1927 a Stockholm newspaper had the idea of ​​inaugurating the first competition among readers to vote for the most beautiful Lucy. Since then, every year a Lucy is elected in each city and the “Lucy” of the Year is crowned in Stockholm by a Nobel Prize for literature. Not only that, the Lucy who wins the Miss contest flies to Syracuse to participate in the Sicilian celebrations.

But the celebration of St. Lucia in the Scandinavian countries has deep roots: in addition to the memory of the saint, they celebrate the light that decreases until the next winter solstice; the flames of the crown candles on Lucia’s head are the light that dies and then returns; the white tunics are the symbol of virginity as the sacred vestals guardians of the fire; the processions are a ritual omen of the nativity and of the expectation for the nascent life, in the new seasonal cycle. So 12 are the days that separate Saint Lucy from Christmas as twelve are the days of Christmas until the feast of the Epiphany.

The Lussekatters

lussekatterThe Lussekatters (Saint Lucy cats) are saffron brioches with the characteristic “S” shape. They are very yellow but not very sweet. It seems that the origin of the recipe is German, dating back at least to the Renaissance: the original shape of the sandwiches was the swastika, a well-known solar archetypal symbol, but after the disastrous associations of the symbol with the Nazis even the scones changed shape, they are become half-crosses with the ends rolled in a spiral and with a raisin in the middle of the two ends (perhaps representing the eyes torn from the saint).
Obviously the confectionery specialties do not end there, there are also the Lucy-pepparkakor, gingerbread cookies decorated with sugar icing: they are spicy biscuits with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger with a strong taste. a little bitter. They are more generally called ginger snaps or gingerbreads. In general, the dough is rolled thin to give more crunchiness to the biscuit and cropped into the classic heart and star shapes but also of the little man, reindeer, moose, horse, fir and squirrel.

The Christmas Storke [La Cicogna di Natale]

The legend comes from the English Renaissance and became a Christmas song entitled “The Storke (The Christmas Storke)”
La narrazione arriva del Rinascimento inglese ed è diventata una canzone di Natale dal titolo “The Storke (The Christmas Storke)”

Katie McMahon in Christmas Angels 2010

The storke she rose on Christmas eve,
And sayde unto her broode,
“I now must fare to Bethlehem
To view the Sonne of God.”
She gave to each his dole of mete
She stowed them farely in,
And far she flew and fast she flew
And came to Bethlehem.
“And where is he of Davids line? “
She asked at house and hall.
“He is not here, -they spoke hardly,-
But in a manger stall.”
She found Him in manger stalle
With that most holy Mayde,
The gentle storke she wept to see
The Lord so rudely laid.
Then from her panting breast she plucked
The feathers white and warm,
She strewed them in the manger bed
To keep the Lord from harm.
“Now blessed be the gentle stork
For evermore”, quoth He
“for that she saw my sadde estate,
and showed me such pity.”
“full welcome shall she ever be
In hamlet and in halle,
And called henceforth the ‘blessed bird’
And friend of babies all”.
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
La cicogna si alzò la Vigilia di Natale
e disse ai suoi figlioli
“Devo andare subito a Betlemme
per vedere il figlio di Dio”
Diede a tutti loro del cibo,
li riparò dal freddo;
e volò di corsa
per venire a Betlemme
“Dov’è il discendente della casa di Davide?”
chiese nelle case e nelle locande.
“Non è qui- risposero con asprezza-
ma nella mangiatoia di una stalla”
Lo trovò nella mangiatoia
con la più santa delle fanciulle
e la buona cicogna pianse tanto nel vedere
il Signore giacere così scomodo.
Allora dal suo petto ansante strappò
le piume bianche e calde,
e le sistemò nel giaciglio
per proteggere il Signore dal freddo
“Sia benedetta la buona cicogna
per sempre -disse-
perchè vide le mie tristi condizioni
e si mosse a pietà.
Sarà sempre benvenuta
nei villaggi e nelle case
e chiamata l’uccello benedetto,
amico di tutti i bambini”


Christmas in Killarney

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“Christmas in Killarney” combines a festive music with the most genuine Christmas tradition in South Ireland.

The text was composed in 1950 by the Americans John Redmond, James Cavanaugh and Frank Weldon, but Killarney is a tourist town (perhaps too crowded in the summer season) located in Ireland, in the county of Kerry, province of Munster: the town is pretty, “very picturesque” surrounded by the Killarney National Park , a true paradise, with breathtaking waterfalls and lakes and the inevitable castle, the Ross Castle.
The Christmas celebrations are particularly lively with float parades, an always open ice rink, Santa’s House and Christmas market stalls, and lots of music.


In Ireland it was customary to put a lighted candle in front of the window on Christmas Eve to welcome Mary and Joseph. It was also the way to signal to priests, in the period in which it was forbidden, that in that house they could enter to give the blessing.
Tradition has it that the candle is lit by the youngest member of the family and turned off by a girl named “Mary” (at one time the name was very common in Irish families). After dinner on the eve the table is prepared again with cumin and raisin bread in the middle, a jug of milk and a lit candle, leaving the front door ajar, so that Mary and Joseph or any tramp, can come in and sit down table to have a refreshment.

Irish Rovers

Barra McNeils

The holly green, the ivy green (1)
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
Is Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home.
It’s nice, you know, to kiss your beau
While cuddling under the mistletoe (2)
And Santa Claus you know, of course
Is one of the boys from home.
The door is always open (3)
The neighbors pay a call
And Father John before he’s gone
Will bless the house and all (4).
Our Hearts are light, our spirits bright
We’ll celebrate our joy tonight
It’s Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home
We’ll decorate the Christmas tree (5)
While all the family’s here
Around a roaring fire (6)
We will raise a cup of cheer (7)
There’s gifts to bring and songs to sing
And laughs to make the rafters ring
It’s Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home
We’ll take the Horse and Sleigh (8)
All across the fields of snow
Listening to the jingle bells
And everywhere we go
How grand it feels to click your heels (9)
And dance away to the jigs and reels
It’s Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home
The holly green, the ivy green
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
I’m handing you no blarney
No matter where you roam
It’s Christmas in Killarney
With all of the folks at home
1) decorating the house for the festivities of mid-winter is an ancient custom, maintained in the Middle Ages, till today (cf)
2) the kiss under the mistletoe has remote origins, perhaps dating back to the Saturnalia or the Celts. Of all the hypotheses, all what refers to the Scandinavian myth of Balder’s death is the most likely. The custom, as an auspicious gesture, is historically found in the Tudor era in the twelve days of Christmas. In the nineteenth century when it was a curse for women to remain unmarried, there were many superstitious gestures to be observed all year round, but in particular on New Year’s Eve: that of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe with anyone who came within range was auspicious for an imminent engagement and if you did it with your boyfriend you were already certain of the wedding!
Once you could give as many kisses as the berries of the mistletoe bush, but now you can kiss at will without removing the berries to count the kisses.
3) we refer not only to the exchange of visits between neighbors and acquaintances, but also to the generosity towards the most needy and the poor who went around the houses with begging songs (cf)
4) in the homes of Catholics the priest used to blessing the rooms and the people gathered together at Christmas
5) Christmas tree was a typically Germanic custom introduced in England in 1840 by Queen Victoria, in love with her handsome prince Albert. Already the Romans for the Saturnalia and the Calendae decorated the house with fir branches, fertility spirits that they remained laden with leaves even in the middle of winter. And yet it is not possible to trace the passage from these twigs to the Christmas tree.
A legend tells of Wilfred of Credition a Christian priest of the 8th century, missionary in Germany: to dissuade the “pagans” in the ritual practices in honor of the old gods he had an oak, the sacred plant of Odin, cut down. But a fir tree was born nearby so Wilfred proclaimed it the emblem of the new faith.
6) Christmas log (what remains of the ancient tradition of Yule) a large trunk brought home on Christmas day which was to burn slowly for the 12 nights of the feast cf
7) toast of the wassail, the ancient cult of trees that became an auspicious drink (cf)
8) the horse-drawn buggies, in winter they were equipped with skates to slide on the snow. There were essentially two models, a small two or four-seater, a small intimate and comfortable sled, the second was a taller, bigger and sturdy sled to accommodate a family (which at the time was quite numerous among children and relatives) or a friends’ group. The bells were a sign of allert to prevent accidents between the sledges: especially with the haze and darkness the sound of bells alerted the approach of a sled; in the Christmas context the clinking recalls the Santa’s sleigh (Jingle bells)
10) typical way of dancing in Ireland

Skeklers from Shetland

Leggi in italiano

From the Shetland Islands come the “straw men” called skeklers, “masks” who played a specific role in the celebrations of Halloween, New Year and even in peasant marriages.

They are fertility “wheat spirits”, the local version of the “begging eggs” tradition spread throughout Europe: “Skekling is an old Shetland folk tradition. A Skekler is the name for a type of disguised person dressed in a distinctive straw costume; it is a variant of the term ‘guiser’. Skeklers would go round the houses at Halloween, New Year, and turn up at weddings in small groups performing fiddle music in return for food and drink.”

Gemma Ovens

Singing the eggs” was part of the ritual beginning of the new year still widespread in Piedmont (although moved to March-April) and of a consolidated tradition in the Italian South (singing of the Strina): the eggs are certainly symbols of rebirth, good health and good harvest, it is the so-called “sympathetic magic” but it makes me think of the use (extensively documented in legends and fairy tales) of egg shells as “exorcism” against fairy pranks and in particular of the Servan ( silvanotti, sarvanot, sarvan, the peasant goblins), in the old days the peasants scattered the shells in front of the doors of the stables to prevent fairy jokes to the cattle; or the boiling eff shells in “counter-spell” against the Changeling. Furthermore the Irish leprechaun, elf of the woods, is master (or guardian) of great quantities of gold – just as it is said of the wild man.


The straw man’s mask (with the blackened face) and the disguised voice was described by Samuel Hibbert in his Description of the Shetland Islands in 1822, when the tradition was already dying out. Here is an accurate description dating back to 1850: “The kitchen was full of beings, whose appearance, being so unearthly, shook the gravity of my muscles and forced a cold sweat to ooze from every pore in my body… [they] stood like statues. One was far above the rest and of gigantic dimensions. eyes, mouth, or noses they had none, nor at least a trace of their countenance.
They kept up an incessant grunt — a noise partly resembling a swine or turkey cock. Their outer garments were as white as snow ans consisted of petticoats below and shirts on the outside with sleeves and collars. They were veiled and their headdresses or caps were about 18 inches in height and made of straw twisted and plaited. each cap terminated in three or four cones of a crescent shape, all pointing backwards and downwards with bunches of ribbons of every colour raying from the points of the cones.”
(from here)

We are in the presence of the umpteenth variant of the Wild Man between myth and ritual, here in his vegetable exception of Man of the Woods (a Jack in the Green of the dark part of the year) that at the end of winter “wakes” the wheat and promotes the germination. Thus the mask of the “straw man” screams (in a beastly way, not a human one) and brings confusion by becoming an instrument of the magic ritual.
There is also a photographic record of these magical creatures, a group of boys photographed in Fetlar in 1909 while there is evidence of tradition up until 1958, the tail of a ritual whose meaning was lost.

Children from Fetlar dressed as skeklers, Shetland, 1909. © Shetland Museum.

Da Skeklers

A lost tradition that in many parts of Shetland is trying to revive (see the photo shoot by Gemma Ovens )
A significant contribution comes from the musical group “Fiddlers’ Bid” that have included in their album “All dressed in Yellow” (2009) the traditional song Da Skeklers and reconstructed the straw costumes of these disturbing masks.
The melody is in set with “Aamer August” (Estonia), the march “Hunter’s Hill” (Scotland); “Sigurd ‘or Gord’s Spring” (from the Shetland Islands played by Catriona McKay’s harp); From Skeklers (from the Shetland Islands ).
So they write in the notes “People like these turning up at your isolated house in the middle of the winter. They would have been good enough to open the door?

In the occasion of the most important festival of the archipelago, Up Helly Aa , a team had the idea of recovering the straw man’s mask; already in 2007 for the opening of the new Shetland Museum, Euan Balfours had recreated the costume based on the photographic archives: the peculiarity of the costume lies in the conical straw hat with woven tip and decorated with ribbons, so it was discovered that the old men still remembered how the various ways of weaving the costume were synonymous with a typicality of the community; we also learn that the face of the mask had to be concealed, not simply dyed black, but veiled (cf)

Clutching at Straws (Clint Watt)

Massimo Centini “L’uomo selvatico” (1989)

Christmas & Bagpipers in Italy

The Mediterranean instrument par excellence, the bagpipes (zampogna) made by the shepherds / peasants of south-central Italy, was already popular among the ancient Romans (who probably derived it from the Greeks) and certainly the armies of the Roman legions brought the sound of the bagpipes (as a tool of war and for military marches) among the Germans and the Celts.
The capillary diffusion of the bagpipe on the European territory we find however in the Middle Ages (with an abundant iconographic production in illuminated pages, frescos, sculptures and bas-reliefs).
Lo strumento mediterraneo per eccellenza, la zampogna fabbricata dai pastori/contadini del centro-sud d’Italia, era già popolare presso gli antichi Romani (che la derivarono probabilmente dagli antichi Greci) e sicuramente furono gli eserciti delle legioni romane a portare il suono delle cornamuse (come strumento di guerra e per le marce militari) presso i Germani e i Celti.
La diffusione capillare della cornamusa sul territorio europeo la troviamo però nel Medioevo (con un’abbondante produzione iconografica in pagine miniate, affreschi, sculture e bassorilievi). 


According to tradition it was St. Francis of Assisi who introduced the figure of the bagpiper (1223) into the first living nativity scene. But it was only in 1720 that a group of Vicentine missionaries from Turin created (for the Ecclesiastical Boarding School for the formation of the clergy) the Christmas Novena with texts and music; from Piedmont the Novena spread throughout Italy with living nativity scenes and bagpipers’ music.
Secondo la tradizione fu San Francesco d’Assisi a introdurre nel primo presepe vivente la figura dello zampognaro (1223). Ma fu solo nel 1720 che un gruppo di missionari vicenziani di Torino idearono (per il Convitto Ecclesiastico che gestivano per la formazione del clero) la Novena di Natale con testi e musica; dal Piemonte la Novena si diffuse in tutta l’Italia con presepi viventi e musica degli zampognari.

In addition to the Ciociaria, Molise holds the primacy of itinerant bagpipers for the Christmas Novena. This document by Rai Storia is very interesting with an interview with the bagpipers of Castelnuovo al Volturno (Isernia). A musical tradition handed down from father to son with the couple, zampogna (played by the oldest shepherd) and ciaramella, dressed in black cloak (tabarro) and sheepskins according to the shepherds’ habits.
Oltre alla Ciociaria è il Molise che detiene il primato degli zampognari itineranti per la Novena di Natale. Molto interessante questo documento di Rai Storia con l’intervista agli gli zampognari di Castelnuovo al Volturno (Isernia). Una tradizione musicale tramandata da padre in figlio con la coppia zampogna (suonata dal pastore più anziano) e ciaramella, abbigliata con mantello nero (tabarro) e pelli di pecora secondo le consuetudini dei pastori.

The repertoire of bagpipers are the popular melodies learned in the family but from 1754 the melody of “Quanno Nascette Ninno“, a Neapolitan song written by Sant’Alfonso Maria de Liguori, is gotten all the more pervasive and becaming “Tu scendi dalle stelle”.
l repertorio degli zampognari sono le melodie popolari imparate in famiglia ma dal 1754 si diffuse capillarmente la melodia di “Quanno Nascette Ninno”, canzone scritta in napoletano, da Sant’Alfonso Maria de Liguori diventata “Tu scendi dalle stelle”

Derby Ram sea shanty

The oldest traditions of the mid-winter festival included an auspicious quest in which a group of young people went from house to house with “The Old Tup“; the custom is found in particular in Derby and Chersterfield carried on by the Mummers of the county still during the nineteenth century and up to our days: they rapresent the ritual death of a ram, whose blood in ancient times was collected in a bowl and the meat was distributed to the poor. The song that accompanied the pantomime has turned into a humorous song (or a nursery rhymes) in which the ram has become gigantic and performs prodigious enterprises.
Le tradizioni più antiche della festa di mezzo inverno prevedevano una sorta di questua benaugurale in cui un gruppo di giovani andava di casa in casa con “The Old Tup“; l’usanza si riscontra in particolare a Derby e a Chersterfield portata avanti dai Mummers della contea ancora durante l’Ottocento e ripresa fino ai nostri giorni: si metteva in scena la morte rituale di un ariete (o montone), il cui sangue anticamente veniva raccolto in una ciotola e la carne era distribuita ai poveri. 
La canzone che accompagnava la pantomima si è trasformata in una canzoncina umoristica (anche come nursery rhymes) in cui l’ariete è diventato gigantesco e compie imprese prodigiose.


The sea shanty version spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific at the time of sailing ships is presented in various text versions, even a little coarse. Other versions always along the lines of “The Derby Ram Goes to Sea” reported by Captain Robinson (1917) and reprinted in Colcord, which we also find from Stan Hugill although in a “cleaned” version.
La versione sea shanty diffusa dall’Atlantico al Pacifico al tempo dei velieri si presenta in varie versioni testuali anche un po’ spinte.
Altre versioni sempre sulla falsariga di The Derby Ram Goes to Sea riportata dal Capitano Robinson (1917) e ristampata in Colcord, che troviamo anche in Stan Hugill anche se in una versione “ripulita”

Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag

Hulton Clint che canta la versione di Stan Hugill in Shanties of the Seven Seas.

As I was going to Derby,
‘twas on a market day,
I met the finest ram, sirs,
that ever was fed upon hay.
That’s a lie, that’s a lie
That’s a lie, a lie, a lie!
This ram and I got drunk, sir,
as drunk as drunk could be,
And when we sobered up, sir,
we were far away out on the sea.
This wonderful old ram, sir,
was playful as a kid;
He swallowed the captain’s spyglass (1)
along with the bo’sun’s fid (2).
The night was very draft (3), sir,
the wind like ice did feel;
He borrowed me suit of oilskins
And took me trick at the wheel
He climbed aloft sir,
so full of him to store the topsails high (4);
but halfway up he lost his nerve
he had an awful fright.
One morning on the poop, sir,
afore eight bells was struck.
He climbed up to the sky’s
I yard an’ sat down on the truck (5).
This wonderful ol’ ram, sir,
he tried a silly trick,
He tried to jump a five-barred fence
and landed in a rick.
This wonderful ol’ ram, sir,
it grew two horns of brass,
One grew out o’ his shoulder blade,
t’other turned into a mast.
The Crew of the good Ship Jackdaw (6)
is handsome, strong and brave,
the finest Crowd of Sailors
that ever sailed over the Waves
traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Mentre andavo a Derby,
ed era un giorno di mercato,
ho incontrato il più bell’ariete, signori,
che mai sia stato alimentato con il fieno
Questa è’ una bugia, Questa è’ una bugia
Questa è’ una bugia, una bugia – bugia
L’ariete ed io ci ubriacammo, signore
che più ubriachi non si poteva
e quando diventammo sobri, signore
eravamo in alto mare
Questo magnifico vecchio ariete,
era giocoso come un bimbo
inghiottì il cannocchiale del capitano
con la caviglia(1) del nostromo
La notte era molto fredda, signore,
il vento sembrava come ghiaccio
e lui mi prestò il vestito incatramato
e mi portò alla ruota del timone
Montò arriva signore,/ così determinato da voler stivare le gabbie volanti
ma a metà strada si è perso d’animo
e gli è preso una strizza terribile
Una mattina sulla poppa, signore
prima che la campana delle otto suonasse, 
lui si è impennato nel cielo, e io mi sono arrampicato e seduto sulla formaggetta
Questo magnifico vecchio ariete,
giocò uno scherzetto
cercò di saltare cinque barili in fila
e atterrò su di un pagliaio
A questo magnifico vecchio ariete,
sono cresciute due corna d’ottone
una scaturita dalla sua scapola
l’altra trasformata in albero
La ciurma della nave “La taccola” 
è affascinante, forte e coraggiosa
i migliori marinai
che mai navigarono sulle onde

1) or spyglass
2) termine nautico vedi
3) or rough
4) stivare nel senso di sferire (toglierle dal pennone), calare le vele in coperta e riporle nel deposito vele. La traduzione della frase è suggerita da Italo Ottonello
5) la versione di Hugill è decisamente volgare
6) la strofa finale è stata modificata dagli autori di Black Flag per adattarla alla storia: La Jackdaw, varata con il nome di El Dorado, è stato il brigantino del pirata gallese Edward Kenway, nonché la nave ammiraglia della sua flotta, nel periodo in cui operò come pirata e poi come Assassino nelle Indie Occidentali, dal 1715 al 1723. continua



Christmas Lullaby by Caprice

Music and Lyrics: Anton Brejestovski
in Kywitt! Kywitt! 2008

There’s no time like December,
Crisp air like a sweet drink
Children waiting for Santa
Press his hand against the glass
You and me run away
Drinking Christmas
Breathing Christmas
Falling snow, electric streetlamps
Lully, lullay, sleep my darling
And I shall sing
C for Coming home
H for Have a good time
R for Remember you
I for I love you
S for See me fly
T for Tears will dry
M for merry
A for Angels
S for singing Christmas
M for merry
A for Angels
S for singing Christmas

Silhouettes in the darkness
Melting candles, silver cones
Whisper your wish to Santa
Arctic sings in tinkling tones
Me and you, fresh and new
Baking fruit cakes
Melting snowflakes
Writing words on icy windows
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Non c’è un mese come Dicembre
l’aria frizzante come una gazzosa (1)
i bambini che aspettano Babbo Natale
preme le mani contro il vetro
Io e te che  scappiamo
per bere il Natale
per respirare il Natale
la neve che cade, le luminarie per le strade
Coro (2)
Ninna nanna dormi mia cara
e ti canterò
C per corri a casa
H per hey divertiti
R per ricordami
I per io ti amo
S per sbirciami mentre volo
T per tergi le lacrime
M per Merry
A per Angeli
S per singing Christmas
M per Merry
A per Angeli
S per singing Christmas

Sagome nell’oscurità
candele che si sciolgono; coni d’argento
sussurra il tuo desiderio a Babbo Natale
Il Polo Nord canta melodie di campanellini
tu ed io, come nuovi
a cuocere il Budino di Natale (3)
a sciogliere i fiocchi di neve
a scrivere parole sulle finestre ghiacciate

1) letteralmente una bevanda dolce
2) ho cambiato leggermente la traduzione delle frasi per farle corrispondere alla lettera dell’acrostico
3) il dolce con la frutta secca è un tipico dolce natalizio diffuso nei paesi anglosassoni ma anche in molti paesi del Nord Europa

Donkey’s Mass: Orientis partibus

Leggi in Italiano

The Donkey Festival (or Festa dei Folli, known as the Festa dei Pazzi in Florence) was celebrated in the church in different regions of Europe, on the day of the Circumcision of the Child Jesus (on the first of January – see Holy Foreskin); but the date in question varied so could fall to Epiphany or January 14 (see Jean-Baptiste Thiers “Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la fête des foux“)

Calends Festival

The purpose of the festival was to pay homage to the donkey who had not only kept warm Jesus in the cave, had fled with the Holy Family in Egypt, but also had brought the adult Messiah on his back in the entrance to Jerusalem.
The veneration of the Donkey was still widespread among the eartly Christians and in the Middle Ages we see Jesus Christ crucified/donkey (Alexamenos graffito )

Pietro Lorenzetti: Gesù entra a Gerusalemme, Basilica in Assisi

“Immagine non necessariamente (o per nulla) blasfema, bensì profondo simbolo sacrificale.
Al raglio asinino, quest’invocazione che sembra così piena di dolore e vuota di speranza, è stato in questo senso associato il grido altissimo di Gesù sulla croce. E all’umile e paziente asinello, segnato dalla croce sulla schiena in ricordo e ringraziamento per il suo servizio nella Domenica delle Palme, si associa appunto il Cristo stesso di cinque giorni più tardi, il Cristo dileggiato e sofferente che, al pari dell’asino, porta sulle spalle la croce sulla quale sarà sacrificato. I corteggi medievali dei condannati montati su asini, e poi ancora le “feste dei folli”, i “carnevali degli asini” e tutti i riti “di rovesciamento” nei quali l’asino veniva abbigliato da re o da vescovo e onorato, rex unius diei prima di venire bastonato e scorticato (o anche semplicemente prima di tornare all’improba fatica di tutti i giorni), conservano tutti la memoria di questo ambiguo ma commovente rapporto fra asino e Cristo, entrambi figure regali ed entrambi obiettivo della crudeltà dell’uomo.” (from here)

Poorly tolerated but still practiced by the priests, the Festa dell’Asinello was a mixture of the sacred and the profane, a joke that could be pushed to the mockery of the liturgy, in a parody of the mass.
It must be said that in the Middle Ages the church is not only a building where mass is celebrated: it takes place political assemblies under the aegis of the Bishop, a lot of Corporations affaires with meetings and councils for the Corporation matters . It becomes a hospital refuge during epidemics or for pilgrims or sick in search of healing, inviolable asylum of the persecuted, grave for the illustrious dead. It could happen that men entered on horseback and at least once a year a donkey in a cassock.


Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut, “Wheel of Fortune”, c1494

An ambivalent animal in the Middle Ages the donkey is a symbol of both the Good, humble, patient, mount of the Prophets and sapiential creature (the donkey of Balaam), but also of Evil: it is the donkey opposed to the ox symbol of Christianity and the Elected People beeing a “pure animal that has a bifid and non-ruminant nail”, while the pagan donkey is “impure, rumen and has a compact nail”; it is the donkey of Dionysus and then ridden by Jesus to symbolize the Christian church that triumphs over previous cultures. It is the golden Ass of Apuleius slave of the pleasures of the flesh, ignorant but curious to learn the magic.


A procession left the church and returned with a donkey led up to the altar. At Mass all the faithful answered with some bray.
Hez va, hez va, hez va, hez !
Biaux sire asnes, car alez,
Bele bouche, car chantez!
For the occasion it was also written a song: Orientis partibus! The song is attributed to the archbishop of Sens Pierre de Corbeil, whose text and music we know of as contained in the “Officium stultorum ad usum Metropoleos ac primatialis Ecclesiae Sennonensis” (XIII century) preserved in Paris in the King’s library.

The Jaye Consort & Gerald English

Musica Vagantium

New London Consort (Philip Pickett)


Compagnia dell’asino che porta la croce

Joglaresa & Belinda Sykes

Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus
pulcher et fortissimus
sarcinis aptissimus
Hey, Hez, sir asne, hey!
Hic in collibus Sichan
iam nutritus sub Ruben (1)
transiit per Iordanem
saliit in Bethlehem
Saltu vincit hinnulos
dammas et capreolos
super dromedarios
velox madianeos
Aurum de Arabia
thus et myrrham de Saba(2)
tulit in ecclesia
virtus Asinaria  (3)
Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula
Cum aristis, hordeum
comedit et carduum
triticum ex palea
segregat in area (4)
Amen dicas, asine
iam satur de gramine
Amen, amen itera
aspernare vetera
English translation*
In eastern lands
the ass arrived
pretty and strong
fit for bunen
Hey, sir Ass, Hey!
Here on the hills of Sichan
already suckled by Ruben (1)
he crossed the Jordan
and enters Bethlehem.
He defeats in the jump the young mule
the fallow deer and roe deer
higher in speed
to the dromedaries of the Medes.
The gold of Arabia
the incense and the myrrh of Saba
he took to the church
the virtue of the donkey
While he pulls his cart
many with heavy loads,
his jaw
grinds tough fodder.
He eats wheat and barley
and the thistle
he separates the wheat from the chaff
on the threshing floor
You say “amen”, ass,
all filled with grass,
“amen”, “amen” once again,
spurning the past.

* partially from here
1) Ruben is the first-born son of Jacob
2) the donkey entering the church symbolically enters Jerusalem or peace. The land of Saba was the land of magicians-astrologists in the Middle Ages.
3) for the initiates, the Church had abandoned the path towards esoteric knowledge, so the glorified donkey indicates a new initiation path, the way of the mad.
4) once the animals was used to husk the wheat (simply by walking on the wheat)

second part


Apples in Winter: New Years Eve in Great Brittany

Leggi in italiano


The apple tree is a tree that was born in the mountains of Central Asia and it has spread along the commercial “silk road”, moving to the west. It is commonly believed that it was the ancient Romans who brought the apple tree to Britain, yet the most recent archaeological excavations in Armagh (Northern Ireland) found apple seeds dating back to the 10th century BC. In fact, the apple appears in many Druidic teachings and in Celtic poetry and mythology.
The apples are stored for a long time in a cool and dry place like attics, becoming one of the few fruits that can be eaten in winter.


The apple tree is the embodiment of the female principle; a medieval narration tells us the love story of Aillin and Baile, two children in love to whom the Druids had prophesied that they would never meet in life, but only after death to never separate again: the macabre (or romantic) prophecy came true magically with the union of the wood of two trees, the apple and the yew grown on their graves!
The legend is set at the time of Celtic Ireland by King Cormac mac Airt (II-IV century), but it is somewhat inconsistent with respect to the archaeological sources in our possession; they tell the story of the “taball filidh” (the poet’s tablet) -probably a wooden tablet or a waxed tablet in use with the ancient Greeks and Romans – one made from the wood of the apple tree of Aillin and the other from the wood of the Baile rate, that they indissolubly linked to each other when they found themselves nearby for the first time (to Samain during the party presided over by Art, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, king of Erinn). If the story were true, the bards of Ireland writed they poems on wooden tablets; these two tablets were one from Leinster (apple), the other from Ulster (rate) and for their magical adherence were preserved as rarities in the treasure of Tara.
The story seems to be a variant of the love knot between the rose and thorn, recalled in the medieval ballads (grown from the respective tombs of the unfortunate lovers, they come together and intertwine with each other).

But the main association of the apple tree with the Celtic world is the Island of the apples, Avalon, the land of the Fairies.
Geoffrey of Monmouth writes in the Historia Regum Britanniae (1136)
Insula pomorum quæ fortunata vocatur,
Ex re nomen habet, quia se singula profert.
Non opus est illi sulcantibus arva colonis,
Omnis abest cultus, nisi quem natura ministrat,
Ultro fœcundas segetes producit, & herbas,
Nataque poma suis prætonso germine sylvis.

The isle of Apples, truly fortunate,
Where unforc’d goods and willing comforts meet.
Not there the fields require the rustick’s hand,
But nature only cultivates the land.
The fertile plains with corn and herbs are proud,
And golden apples smile in ev’ry wood.“.

Fairies’ food that can make immortal or restore health to the sick, the apple is the basis of the preparation of cider, a low-alcohol drink obtained from the fermentation of fruits such as apples, pears or loquats, typical of the United Kingdom, Basque Country and of Normandy. see


by Hedingham Fair

The oldest form of the winter celebration of the Wassail provides the blessing of trees and bees, so important for pollination, in order to ensure a healthy harvest for the next year.
“Apple Wassail”, is the blessing of the orchards: during the ritual they sing and make a spell, with a great noise they beating pots and pans (or shooting in the air) to ward off evil spirits, pourring some cider around the roots of the oldest tree; finally all drink to the health of the apple trees and the future harvest, eating sweet buns, and leaving a slice to the spirit of tree (to feed the robins), placed on the branches of the plant as thanksgiving.
(see more)


The second rite comes from Wales called “Hel Calennig” (Literally “the hunt of the Calends”) based on the ancient tradition of exchanging a gift for the first of January. (some scholars believe that the ritual derives from the customs practiced in the Roman Empire for the New Year. see Strenia)

Hel Calennig” is a Welsh tradition of the first day of the new year: an apple impaled on three sticks like a tripod, decorated with cloves and a sprig evergreen. This “trophy” is brought as a gift (or shown) in the neighbors’ house by the children singing a good-luck song.
In return they receive bread and cheese or some coins.

Blwyddyn newydd dda i chwi,
Gwyliau llawen i chwi,
Meistr a meistres bob un trwy’r ty,
Gwyliau llawen i chwi,
Codwch yn foreu, a rheswch y tan,
A cherddwch i’r ffynon i ymofyn dwr glan.
A happy new year to you,
May your holidays be merry,
Master and mistress – everyone in the house;
May your holidays be merry,
Arise in the morning; bestir the fire,
And go to the well to fetch fresh water

The New Year is also the Hoodening Day in Wales when Mari Lwyd, “Y Fari Lwyd”   (in English “Gray Mare”) is brought home.


Paul Bommer

Mari Lwyd is the Welsh version of the hooden horse. Tradition still practiced in central and south Wales, in particular in Llantrisant and Pontyclun on New Year’s Eve. The mask consists of a horse’s head (a real skull) with movable jaw and disquieting eyes made from two pieces of green bottle, decorated with colored ribbons and carried on a pole by a person hidden under a wide white sheet.
The wassailers stop to sing in front of the doors of the houses and call the mistress and challenge her in a pwnco, a sort of debate between the two sides, often with insolent verses. The victory of the singing challenge allows the wassailers to enter the house to eat sweets and drink beer.
As we can see in the illustration, the landlady holds a broom in her hand and she does not want to let the wassailers enter, because they are bringers of chaos.
The revel as all the rituals of the peasant world requires a certain degree of drunkenness and harassing behavior. In fact, the mare will turn around the room trying to take the women, she is clearly a monstrous and otherworldly creature who must be appeased with some offers. Sometimes a small child stands with a sweet and manages to calm the beast. keep it going. see more

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Welsh gaelic
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno

1) if the people of the house were defeated in the poetic contest, the Mari Lwyd claimed the right to stay at dinner with all his followers. Alternatively they offered a glennig, (a small tip), a glass of glaster, (water and milk) or beer

At Cwm Gwaun (Gwaun Valley), above Abergwaun (Fishguard), the community celebrates Yr Hen Galan (the old New Year) on January 13, according to the calendar prior to 1752.
Even in Wales as in Scotland is still rooted the practice of Firstfoot: here must be a man with a lucky name (Dafydd, Sion, Ifan or Siencyn), or alternatively a woman with a lucky name (Sian, Sioned, Mair or Marged ); in New Year’s Eve there was also a wren hunting.


The “Apples in winter” is an Irish jig also known by many other titles (see)

David Power uillean pipe & Willie Kelly violin in “Apples in winter” (n enjoyable cd of jigs and reels + some traditional Irish air)


Anglo concertina, Cittern, & Guitar


second part



Auld Lang Syne: melodies in search of an author


Leggi in italiano

At New Year’s Eve the most widespread song in Scottish homes is Auld Lang Syne, a song sung all over the world on many occasions.
The song is accompanied by a collective ritual: in a circle we hold each other’s hands during the first verse. Then the arms must be crossed by grasping the hands of the neighbor during the last verse.

The title is composed of three terms in Scottish that mean old, long, since three words to indicate the past time, “the good old days”. This is an old song that Robert Burns says he heard from an elderly singer, Burns also states that the song had been passed down only orally. Here is the correspondence between Burns and the publisher George Thomson (1793): “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man’s singing, is enough to recommend any air”

Similar rhymes and melodies date back to 1500: in particular two, the ballad Auld Kyndnes Foryett -in Bannatyne Manuscript 1568- and the ballad attributed to the court poet Sir Robert Ayton (1570-1638) published in 1711 by James Watson in “Choice Collection of Scots Poems” collection; for the latter some verses are the same that are found in the Burns’ ones.
Should auld Acquaintance be forgot,
nd never thought upon,
The Flames of Love extinguished,
And freely past and gone?
s thy kind Heart now grown so cold
n that Loving Breast of thine,
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old-long-syne?

In 1724 Allan Ramsay wrote in his “A Collection of Songs” the song entitled “Should auld acquaintance be forgot” (perhaps taken from the sixteenth-century ballad Auld Kyndnes Foryett) and the song was then published in Vol 1 of the “Scots Musical Museum” 1787, with the title “Auld Lang Syne” but the verses are light years away from those of Burns!

"O Can Ye Labor Lea" 
"For old long Gine my jo"  
(from Playford in "Original Scotch Tunes" 1700)

Johnson publishes “Auld Lang Syne” from the first version of Burns in the Scots Musical Museum, vol 5, 1796; but Robert Burns sent his writings about this song even to the publisher George Thomson, and in particular his third version. Later, Thomson learns from Stephen Clarke that Johnson already had a copy of Burns’ song and that the melody was always transcribed by Johnson in the version of Ramsay. Burns, so he replies:‘The two songs you saw in Clarke’s are neither of them worth your attention. The words of ‘Auld lang syne are good, but the music is an old air, the rudiments of the modern tune of that name. The other tune you may hear as a common Scots country dance.’ Burns 1794.

So the first melody that Robbie calls “an old air” is that published by Johnson “O Can Ye Labor Lea“, while the second melody “For old long Gine my jo” is the one in Playford.


Burns’ merit was to write a couple of verses and to modify and arrange the others. A fragment written by Robert Burns in 1793 is kept at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (see)


WhenGeorge Thomson published “Auld Lang Syne” in the “Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs”, 1799 replaced the first melody with the much more popular one in the eighteenth century called “The Miller’s Wedding” (formerly in “Scots Reels”, Bremner 1759) and commonly called ‘Sir Alexander Don’s Strathspey’ because also played by the famous violinist Niel Gow: a typically Scottish dance melody the strathspey!


George Thomson republished “Auld Lang Syne” in 1817 with a new arrangement by the Czech composer Leopold Kozeluch

Burns had already reused the same melody in two songs: “O can ye labor lea” ( “I fee’d a man at Martinmas”) and “Coming thro ‘the rye.


Lately on the web (of course only on Italian sites) in the wake of Jesse Blackadder’s novel “The Raven’s Heart”, 2011 they have spread the attribution of the melody to Davide Rizzo (or David Riccio as they called in Scotland ). The journalist and writer Renzo Rossotti (in “Assassinio in Scozia” da “Piemonte magico e misterioso”, Newton Compton Editori, 1994 see) in his “Assassinio in Scozia” reports an italian legend according to which David Riccio is the author of “Auld Lang Syne”, but this is indeed a legend.

Two old friends, meeting after many years of separation, remember the youth and toast to the old days! 

Robert Burns 1799 (George Thomson)

Dougie MacLean in Tribute– 1996
Velvety voice, pronounced seductively scottish, guitar background, a delicate arrangement

AULD LANG SYNE Robert Burns in SMM vol 5 1796 (James Johnson)

 Jim Malcolm  in Acquaintance
Velvety voice, pronounced seductively scottish, a splash of notes on the piano, guitar and violin background. The melody is slightly different as the sequence of strophes I, IV, II, III, V and the theme of the Waltz is recorded in the final played by the guitar alone

Paolo Nutini

Eddi Reader

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear(1),
For days auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For days auld lang syne!
We twa hae run about the braes(3)
And pou’d the gowans(4) fine,
But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit(5),
Sin days auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid(6) hae roar’d,
Sin days auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp(2)
And surely I’ll be mine,
And we’ll tak a cup o kindness(8) yet,
For days auld lang syne!
And there’s a hand my trusty fiere(7),
And gie’s a hand o thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught(8),
For days auld lang syne
1) or “jo”
2) stowp= vessel, 
3) braes= hills,
4) gowans= daisies,
5) monie a weary fit= many a weary foot,
6) braid= broad
7) fiere= friend,
8) right guid-willie waught= “cup of kindness” good toast, friendly draught, 



The song has been translated all over the world (in at least forty languages). The popularity of “Auld Lang Syne” derives most probably from its inclusion with the title “Farewell Waltz” in the film “Waterloo bridge” (1940) directed by Mervyn LeRoy, with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. This film was the prototype of the typical Hollywood melodrama.

The famous scene of the waltz.

The Farewell Waltz version was arranged by Cedric Dumont (1916-2007) Swiss composer, author and conductor and it was translated / arranged in Italian by the authors Larici & Mauri in 1943 like danceable. At the time, the Anglo-Saxon melodies were forbidden in Italy by the war censorship, but it was enough to change the title and arrangement and here is “Il valzer delle candele”!


Tati Casoni 

Domani tu mi lascerai
e più non tornerai,
domani tutti i sogni miei
li porterai con te.
La fiamma del tuo amor
che sol per me sognai invan
è luce di candela che
già si spegne piano pian.
Una parola ancor
e dopo svanirà
un breve istante di
Ma come è triste il cuor
se nel pensare a te
ricorda i baci tuoi
che non son più per me.
Domani tu mi lascerai
e più non tornerai,
domani tutti i sogni miei
li porterai con te.
La fiamma del tuo amor
che sol per me sognai invan
è luce di candela che
già si spegne piano pian.

Nini Rosso.

The melody has finally become a new song titled “Il Canto dell’Addio” well know by all those who have been scouts, or have spent their summer in the italian colonies, or at the shelters run by priests and the like.

È l’ora dell’addio, fratelli,
è l’ora di partir;
e il canto si fa triste; è ver:
partire è un po’ morir.
Ma noi ci rivedremo ancor
ci rivedremo un dì
arrivederci allor, fratelli,
arrivederci sì.
Formiamo una catena
con le mani nelle man,
stringiamoci l’un l’altro
prima di tornar lontan.
Perché lasciarci e non sperar
di rivederci ancor?
Perché lasciarci e non serbar
questa speranza in cuor?
Se attorno a questo fuoco qui,
l’addio ci dobbiam dar;
attorno ad un sol fuoco un dì
sapremo ritornar.
Iddio che tutto vede e sa
la speme di ogni cuor;
se un giorno ci ha riuniti qui,
saprà riunirci ancor.
Ma non addio diciamo allor
che ancor ci rivedrem:
arrivederci allor, fratelli,
arrivederci insiem!
Fratello non dolerti se
la fiamma langue già:
doman la stessa fiamma ancor
fra noi risplenderà.

second part

LINK online/AuldLangSyne/default.asp?id=4