The time has come again to celebrate the Swedish holiday, St Knut’s Day. We know what your true love gave you on the 1st through 12th day of Christmas but what did you get on the 20th day of Christmas? A broken gingerbread house and a tree hurled out your window or door on St Knut’s Day!!!
In Sweden the 20th day after Christmas (January 13th) is St Knut’s Day. Knut Day is a traditional festival celebrated to recognize the official end of the Christmas season. If you want to greet someone today you can say: Tjugondag Knut körs julen ut (On Knut’s 20th day, Christmas is driven out) and Tjugondag Knut kastas granen ut (On Knut’s 20th day, the Christmas tree is thrown out).
Who Is Knut?
Canute Lavard (Knut Levard in Swedish) was a Danish duke who was assassinated by his cousin and rival Magnus Nilsson on January 7, 1131 so he could usurp the Danish throne. In the aftermath of his death there was a civil war, which led to Knut being later declared a saint, and January 7 became Knut’s Day, a name day.
As his name day roughly coincided with Epiphany (the “thirteenth day of Christmas” on January 6th), Knut’s Day and Epiphany were often combined to some degree. So in 1680, Knut’s Day was moved to 13 January and became known as tjugondag Knut or tjugondedag jul (the “twentieth day of Knut/Christmas”).
In the Old Farmer’s Almanac it is said that “King Knut asked children for help to drive out Christmas.” In the old Swedish agrarian society, children would run from farm to farm to “call out Christmas,” meaning they would “call out” that Christmas had ended and ask for food and drink.
A Knut’s party or Knut’s dance (Swedish: Julgransplundring, literally: “Christmas tree plundering”) is also known as “Dancing out Christmas” (Dansa ut julen) or “Throw out the Tree” (Kasta ut granen).
A lot of the St Knut’s Day traditions were at their most popular in the years after the Second World War but they haven’t totally died out by any means. During the 20th century, the Knut’s party became mainly associated with children and candy.
In families there is often a party mainly for children when the Christmas decorations are taken down. Parties are also common in schools, churches and other places. In many towns, the illumination of the public Christmas tree is switched off, accompanied by an outdoor Knut’s dance for the community.
Party activities involve singing and dancing around the Christmas tree, “looting” the tree of ornamental candy and apples, smashing the gingerbread house into pieces …
… and eating it, opening Christmas crackers that have been used as decorations in the tree, or a treasure hunt. The songs and dances are essentially the same as those performed at Christmas and Midsummer, and some songs with verses about the end of Christmas. And after dancing around the tree there is often the tradition of throwing out the tree.
“Throwing out” the tree on St Knut’s Day does not just mean taking it out to the garbage like is done in the United States. During the 20th century, Christmas trees were literally thrown out of the window or from the balcony, onto the street once they had been “plundered” and stripped of all ornaments. Since the beginning of the 21st century, areas for dumping the trees are designated by local authorities but in 2015, spontaneous and illegal dumping grounds were still a problem.
Volunteers from sport clubs and other organizations such as Lions Clubs International often help collect the discarded trees to be recycled for heating or used in bonfires at Walpurgis Night later in spring. Failure to dispose of the tree in a manner designated by the authorities can result in a fine or a sentence of up to one year in prison.
Since the late 1980s, artificial Christmas trees have replaced a portion of the natural trees and thus eliminated the need to dispose of the tree. These are simply disassembled and put into storage after the Knut’s Party.
On January 5 in Germany they have what they call the World Tree Tossing Championship. While some of us may think it is on the wrong day and in the wrong country it is quite a site to behold.
I believe it was Ole, or maybe it was Lena, who liked to say “It is better to toss your tree than to toss your cookies.” Happy St Knut’s Day!!!!!