This blog goes on under a different name and new web address from January 2011. Please follow me...

Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Ascension and Attention

Picture borrowed from Wikipedia: Cuculus canorus

Today is Ascension Day, which in the Swedish calendar is still a holiday (I'm not sure how it is in other countries), even though many people nowadays probably don't think much about why.

Ascension Day marks the day when Jesus Christ ascended up into heaven, 40 days after his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. The evangelist Luke reports in the last chapter of his gospel, and in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, that Jesus appeared to his disciples on several occasions over a period of 40 days after his death; then

He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:7-9)

Traditionally, in my country (Sweden), Ascension day has been (and is sometimes still) celebrated by Christians with an early church service outdoors; often followed by a picnic. People who did not go to church just picked up the tradition of an early morning picnic in the woods, listening to birdsong - especially listening for the cuckoo. We have a special name for this kind of spring outing: gökotta. Gök means cuckoo, and otta is an old word for early morning (and/or early morning church service).

According to old Swedish folklore, the first time in the spring that you hear the cuckoo, you should pay attention to the direction from which you hear it:

The cuckoo from the North brings sorrow,
the cuckoo from the East brings comfort,
the cuckoo from the South brings death,
the cuckoo from the West is the best (brings happiness).

Looking it up now, I find that there are different traditions - another version says that the cuckoo from the South "brings butter on the table". But the version where the south is connected with death is the one I heard back in my childhood.

As so often, the reason or background for both versions gets lost in translation: In Swedish, the words rhyme, or share the same vowel. So one makes as much "sense" as the other, really...

Norrgök är sorgegök
Östergök är tröstergök
Södergök är dödergök /death
(or: Södergök är smöregök /butter)
Västergök är bästergök


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I'm so glad to learn about things such as this. Just wonderful :)

rae said...

What a great post! I especially liked the Swedish rhyme regarding the first cuckoo song of the season.

I know that Catholics in America still celebrate Ascension Thursday, but I'm not sure about others. It doesn't seem like anyone makes a big deal of it.

(Thanks for making your blog readable in full for RSS feeds!)

Dan Felstead said...

Dawn Treader...
I really enjoy hearing about traditions in other countries. Thanks. This Monday is Memorial Day in the U.S. A day we remember the military who have served in our Armed Forces over the years. Usually a day of outside barbecues and family get togethers.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin