Sunday, December 10, 2006

Festival of Light - in honor of St. Lucia

Tonight is the annual pot-luck supper, followed by a pageant honoring St. Lucia - patron saint of Sweden - at our church. This is also one of my favorite church-related events - topped only by Christmas, Easter and Reformation Sunday. (Being a "true blue Lutheran" explains my mentioning Reformation Sunday there. Of course, there are many who know me, from our parish no less, who probably would argue my assertion there as to being a "true blue Lutheran" because I am not among the faithful who manages to get to church every Sunday or for all the special services held throughout the year too, but whether they believe that comment or not, trust me, I hold the tenets of my faith deeply within me.

For those who have no clue about St. Lucia - and because I happen to thoroghly love this special celebration - I thought today it would be fitting to give a little information about her and why she is celebrated as a Saint.

I don't remember right now all the exact dates but will try to give you as clear a picture as possible with time approximates.

Way back around 300 A.D. - or thereabouts - Lucia was a young maiden in Italy who had been born into a well-to-do family and, was engaged to be married. She also, about that time, learned of Christianity, accepted it as her faith and gave of her wealth to the church community. This was also during the period when Christians were frequently persecuted, even slaughtered for their belief, and often, many hid in the deep, dark catacombs of Rome.

Lucia often took food and drink to these early Christians in hiding and to find her way through the catacombs, legend has it that she wore a wreath-type crown of candles on her head to provide light to find her way to bring aid and comfort to her fellow believers.

Her fiance was a non-believer and being upset for her giving freely of her wealth, to say nothing of her bringing sustenance to other Christians in hiding, he turned her in to the authorities and she was killed for her beliefs.

Many, many years later, when the missionaries first branched out to Sweden, Norway and other Scandanavian countries, the Vikings were quite taken by this story of the young maid who brought not only food, but light to her fellow Christians.

They likened the story of St. Lucia to a pagan belief pertaining to December 13th being the shortest day of the year, after which the sun's rays begin to stick around longer, providing more light, warmth, comfort to them and that, in a very small nutshell, is the basic story of St. Lucia.

When the Vikings compared her to the sun's rays, the coming of a new season, it is akin to the Christian beliefs that Christ's birth heralds the coming of a new season within us too - within the heart and mind - and St. Lucia brings the first light to remind us of the coming of Christmas - also a Festival of Light, if you will.

The Vikings then began to emulate St. Lucia by setting up a tradition with the ritual of having the oldest daughter in a household rise very early in the morning of December 13th to prepare a breakfast and beverages for her family. And, she served this meal to them while wearing a crown of candles to signify how St. Lucia also came to the early Christians, bringing them comfort and light for their way.

For the past 26 years now, our parish - which was founded by Swedish immigrants to this coal mining community in the mid-1880's - has chosen to honor St. Lucia on the first Sunday in December which falls closest to December 13th. For 2006, that would be today - December 10th.

We have a wonderful pot-luck dinner with church members bringing many delicious casseroles, breads and desserts and the church social room is decorated not just with a tree but with lovely small wooden Swedish candlestick holders on each table, including several large tree-shaped wooden Swedish candelabras on the large buffet table. There will be an abundance of other Swedish decorations around the social room as well to make it a warm, welcoming and truly lovely place.

After the dinner, we will have a pageant to re-tell the story of St. Lucia and one of the teenage girls from the congregation will be given the honor of portraying Lucia by her entrance into the dining room, wearing a crown of candles, and with her "court" in attendance. The court is made up of any of the younger members of the parish - boys and girls alike (the boys are called "star boys). They will enter the hall in a procession, led by the youngest of the children, each carrying a candle holder with one lit candle while the congregation sings the beautiful song "Santa Lucia."

It is just a beautiful program, to hear the story of St. Lucia retold each year and to watch as the young lady chosen to represent St. Lucia appears. It never ceases to bring tears to my eyes no matter how many times I see the pageant. Of course, the years when my daughters had the honor of portraying Lucia did make me a bit more weepy.

After the procession and St. Lucia's story has been presented, St. Lucia then carries a tray of "Lucia" buns - a specially made bread, formed into a croissant-like shape and flavored with saffron - and goes from table to table offering a Lucia bun to each person present.

This is followed by an old-fashioned Christmas carol sing-along and ends with any member who wishes to come forward - generally those who have at sometime or other belonged to the church choir and who know the Swedish Christmas carol - "Lyssna, Lyssna" which is then sung, always with great gusto!

Although I know the words to the closing song in Swedish, I can't put them in here mainly because I don't know the spelling or the proper placement of the little symbols over various vowels. And, I don't know the full English translation either, for that matter. But I do know what the first two lines mean in English: "Listen, listen, hear the angel's song."

When the choir sings that song as a call to worship at our Christmas Eve Candlight service, it will bring forth tears to me as it always does to hear the music, listen to the words and remember Christmases of my childhood when my Grandfather used to love to sing this particular carol. It was by far and away, his favorite as it is mine too.

But tonight, when we "old-timers" come forward to sing it, it will "rock" the room as the young people there might say. And, it is a fitting end to the program with much anticipation of a coming Day!

1 comment:

Mike said...

It sounds like a very lovely and spiritual time. With all the candles and such, it would be very inspiring to see.