(On the 20th of Canute, Christmas gets the boot!)
Yuletide in Sweden is gruelingly long – 20 days, in fact – and the last day of Christmas falls on the Feast of St. Canute, or Tjugondag Knut in Swedish.
St. Canute’s Day is celebrated in the Nordic countries on 13 January (the Swedish name day for Knut), although the Catholic Church observes it on 19 January.
Canute (c. 1043 –1086) was King of Denmark from 1080 until 1086. He was an ambitious king who attempted to conquer England and take the English throne from William of Normandy (his claim was via his great-uncle, Canute the Great, King of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden at various times between 1016 and 1035). He also worked to strengthen the Danish monarchy and supported the Catholic Church by building churches and encouraging missionaries.
On 10 July 1086, during an insurrection in Odense, Denmark, Canute and his brother Benedict were murdered by rebels while kneeling at in the altar of St. Alban’s Church where they had taken refuge. Oddly enough, it has been suggested that Canute had earlier stolen relics of Saint Alban from Ely in England and deposited them at St. Alban's Priory, which he founded in Odense. Perhaps being murdered there was his just reward.
Because of his supposed martyrdom and his advocacy of the Catholic Church, he was quickly regarded as a saint. A Canute cult developed, and miracles were reported at his grave.
St. Canute was canonized in 1101 and is the patron saint of Denmark. He is also known as Canute IV, Canutus, Cnut, Knud IV and Knute.
St. Canute is normally represented as a Nordic king with a lance, dagger or arrow. He is often depicted barefoot with his hair in a fillet (a round band worn around the head and over the hair), or being murdered at an altar.
St. Canute’s Day marks the end of Christmas in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. On this day in Sweden, people dance around their Christmas trees and candy is hidden among the branches for children to find in a tradition known as “Christmas tree plundering” before the tree is finally tossed.
Additionally, in some parts of the country, masked and costumed children beg for candy, and in Gimo (outside of Uppsala), there is a festive “knutmasso”, or St. Canute carnival, with elaborate paper mâché masks, every year.
St. Canute festivities are not confined to the Nordic countries: in Spain, St. Canute’s Day, or San Canuto, is celebrated on 19 January. The feast is characterized by the imbibing of alcohol and smoking of marijuana, as St. Canute has evolved into the Spanish patron saint of cannabis.
Below is the aftermath of Tjugondag Knut from our place (we celebrated on Epiphany Day instead).