St. Knut’s Day
St. Knut’s Day falls on January 13, the twentieth day after Christmas, and marks the end of the CHRISTMAS SEASON in Sweden and NORWAY. In Sweden the day is known as the Twentieth Day of Christmas. The Swedish Christmas season lasts longer than twenty days, however, since it begins on December 13, ST. LUCY’S DAY.
While the Swedes and Norwegians honor St. Knut (also spelled “Canute”) on January 13, the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions acknowledge St. Hilary of Poitiers on this day. Canute Lavard, a Danish nobleman, lived in the twelfth century. Political rivals murdered Canute on January 7, 1131, in order to prevent him from becoming king. Legends say that many miracles occurred at Canute’s tomb. These miracles catapulted the deceased Danish lord into sainthood. His feast day was eventually moved from January 7 to January 13. St. Knut shares this date with St. Hilary (also “Hilarius”), a fourth-century bishop famed for his religious writings and forceful personality.
An old Scandinavian saying proclaims, “Twentieth-day Knut, drives the YULE out.” People took the saying quite literally in past times. They removed all Christmas decorations, flung open doors and windows, and swept all the dust and debris from their celebrations out of the house on this day. Folk belief also recommended that householders tap the walls with sticks in order to chase out any Christmas ghosts, trolls, or JULTOMTEN that might be lurking there. In Sweden a man dressed as “Knut” in colorful rags sometimes appeared to help the household “sweep out Christmas.”
Elements of these older practices can be seen in Sweden’s contem-porary St. Knut’s Day traditions. On this day Swedes dismantle their CHRISTMAS TREES. Children’s parties centered around this event have become another special feature of the day. These parties offer the opportunity for one last bout of Christmas eating, drinking, singing, and dancing, as well as the pleasure of observing the last lighting of the Christmas tree. While the adults pack up the delicate Christmas tree ORNAMENTS, the children stuff themselves with the candy and cookies that have been used to decorate the tree. After the tree is stripped the assembled company throws it out onto the snow, often wishing it and the Christmas season a final farewell in song. Folk traditions suggest that the tree be thrown through a window. Swedes sometimes dispose of the trees by gathering several together and setting them ablaze as great outdoor bonfires.