SANTA LUCIA: A SIGHT TO BEHOLD by mia hinkle

Assignment: Why I would never be mistaken for Santa Claus

I would never be mistaken for Santa Claus. I am more the Santa Lucia type. In fact, when I was a little girl with long flaxen locks, I was actually cast as Santa Lucia in my public school Christmas program. It was really a sight to behold. I was probably in first or second grade. My school was in a small town, just a few hundred kids all together in grades K thru 12. So all the grades had a part in the Christmas program; in the choirs, or the orchestra, or the nativity, or the north pole scene … and that year I got to play the role of Santa Lucia.

So who is Santa Lucia?

Santa Lucia has been honored and celebrated internationally for the last 1,700 years as a saintly virgin who used her wealth to help the poor.

Santa Lucia trusted absolutely that she was doing the right thing by following God and dumping her loser fiancé, even though without him she had no means of support.

Santa Lucia was tortured and killed by the establishment when she refused to walk in lockstep with gender and cultural expectations.

So out of the cold dark Nordic winter comes a holiday bearing her name and bringing the light.

Fast forward 1,700 years or so… a little Minnesota girl 6, maybe 7 years old.

Long thick blond hair to the middle of my back.

Dressed in a full-length white satin robe (these were the days before flame retardant fabric), white satin robe with a cute little red sash and dress-up shoes that didn’t fit right.

A dark school gymnasium with a couple of spotlights; overcrowded with parents, teachers, and students.
I take my place at the back of the gym.

Someone perches a rigid Styrofoam floral ring wrapped in some kind of greenery with seven white tapers stuck in it, on my little tow-head.

I hold my breath and stand motionless as someone else flicks their BIC and lights each candle.

And then I carefully teeter down the aisle toward the stage as the high school choir sings some angelic Christmas song somewhere north of the key of mice.

I didn’t think of a thing of it at the time … totally trusting that everything would be ok … but years later I asked my Mom, “What WERE you thinking? Didn’t that sound a just a teensy bit dangerous to you?” She quipped, “Oh honey, I didn’t really think much about it at the time. You were fine.”

And yes, I guess I have to admit, I was just fine. And yes, it was truly a sight to behold.

Come to think of it, there is something really child-like about the audacious trust required to embrace the message of Christmas and a little tiny light that can pierce the darkness.

There is something mysterious about the pure trust you need to really “get it” when you read about the birth of a baby in some backwater town in some fly-over country who turns out to be the Savior of the World.

Not the magic of Santa Claus bringing you your every little heart’s desire, but the unflinching faith of Santa Lucia that everything is going to be just fine — in fact, it’s truly going to be a sight to behold.

Santa Lucia was a sweet little Italian girl who moved to Sweden to help the poor. Well, that’s not entirely true. Santa Lucia is sometimes referred to as the “Bringer of Light” and is the patron saint of vision. There are numerous legends about this young martyred saint. She really didn’t move to Sweden but her legend did.

The Festival of Santa Lucia begins before dawn, on the thirteenth of December which under the old Julian calendar was Christmas Day and the longest night of the year. The custom is that the eldest daughter in each household comes to her sleeping parents, dressed in a long white gown tied with a red sash, and wearing a crown of lingonberry leaves in which are set seven lighted candles. In her hands, she carries a tray of steaming hot coffee and “Lussekattor”, which is sort of a saffron breakfast roll. Awakened by the lights and the singing, the parents arise and eat the breakfast served, thus ushering in the Christmas season.

And what parent wouldn’t jolt awake at the sight of flames shooting from their little girl’s hair!

Scandinavian tradition holds that in Värmland, Sweden, a white-clad maiden, wearing a crown of burning candles, brought food to the starving villagers on the shores of Lake Vänern. No one knows how long ago the tradition began, but it was so far back that the festival of Santa Lucia was marked by a notch on the primitive “primstav” which is a calendar stick, the precursor of the modern day calendar. From its beginnings in Värmland, the customs honoring Santa Lucia have spread throughout Sweden, and then to the rest of Scandinavia. Today, the festival is celebrated in schools, hospitals, businesses, and towns; each of which has its own Lucia Bride and festivities to mark the beginning of Christmas.

However, the origins of this tradition are not in Scandinavia, but in Syracuse on the island of Sicily around 304 A.D. According to the Sicilian legend, Lucia’s mother, a wealthy widow, had been miraculously cured of a serious illness. Lucia was a devoted Christian and in thankfulness, she persuaded her mother to distribute her wealth to the poor. So by candlelight, the mother and daughter went about the city secretly ministering to the poor of Syracuse.

Lucia had an absolutely audacious trust that she was following the will of God and was doing what was required of her; using up her resources to minister to the needs of the poor. In that culture and in that century, if you were a woman without a dowry, you really didn’t have a future. Also in that culture and in that century, Christianity was illegal and those who believed were persecuted for it.

The pagan young man to whom Lucia was engaged, took a dim view of her distributing her dowry to the poor, and outed her as a Christian to the ruler who ordered that she be arrested and tortured. Miraculously, neither boiling oil nor burning pitch had the power to hurt Lucia, and so they gouged out her eyes with a fork and slayed her with a sword. Lucia was just 21 years old.

Accordingly, throughout the Nordic north, on the morning of the December 13th, the white-robed maiden comes out of the night with her burning crown of candles piercing the darkness. In honor of her martyrdom, it has long been Scandinavian custom to donate money on Lucia Day to institutions working for the blind.

So who is Santa Lucia?

Santa Lucia is celebrated internationally for the last 1,700 years as a saintly virgin who used her wealth to help the poor.

Santa Lucia trusted absolutely that she was doing the right thing by following God and dumping her loser fiancé, even though without him she had no means of support.

Santa Lucia was tortured and killed by the establishment when she refused to walk in lockstep with gender and cultural expectations.

So out of the cold dark Nordic winter comes a holiday bearing her name and bringing the light.

There is something really child-like about the audacious trust required to embrace the message of Christmas and a little tiny light that can pierce the darkness.

There is something mysterious about the pure trust you need to really “get it” when you read about the birth of a baby in some backwater town in some fly-over country who turns out to be the Savior of the World.

Not the magic of Santa Claus bringing you your every little heart’s desire, but the unflinching faith of Santa Lucia that everything is going to be just fine. In fact, it’s truly going to be a sight to behold.

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