Although in our church, the Christmas Season begins with the first Sunday in Advent -and yesterday marked the third Sunday in Advent in our church, but for me, the Christmas Season begins with the pot luck dinner and program we have every December on the Sunday the closest to December 13th.
Why December 13th? What's so special about that date that we have this special dinner and program?
Well, quite simply, because December 13th is St. Lucia Day and in Sweden, that is a very, very special day as St. Lucia is a patron saint of Sweden.
But, you say, Jeni -you live in Pennsylvania -born and raised there so why then is a Swedish Saint honored in your church?
It's a Swedish traditional thing and the founding members of our congregation were almost all from the same area in Sweden; many were close relatives or at least often distant relatives to one another and this is a way of paying homage to our ethnic roots.
And St. Lucia is a very endearing story about a young woman who actually was Italian but the first missionaries who arrived in Sweden more than a couple hundred of years ago told the story of this martyr when converting the Swedish people to Christianity and the story came to hold a special meaning then in the hearts of that community. So much so, that St. Lucia became a patron saint then in that land.
St. Lucia heralds light -as in Christ being the light of the world -and as such, this is indicated by the crown she wears of lit candles as she makes her way through each Swedish home in the wee hours of the morning on December 13th, serving coffee and sweet buns to her family. This is not a complete description of the story of St Lucia but rather my simplification of the tale. The task of portraying St. Lucia is given to the eldest girl in each family and in our church, each year for the past 31 years now, we have been selecting the oldest girl (high school senior usually) in our parish who will then portray St. Lucia in our little pageant with all the other girls and boys surrounding her as part of her court -attendants (girls) and star boys. It's a very traditional event -very pretty -and meaningful to most everyone in our church as well.
Yesterday was the big day for this year as we had our dinner followed by the St. Lucia pageant and our next door neighbor's younger daughter had her turn this year to be St. Lucia. Maya, my granddaughter, was once again one of the attendants in St. Lucia's court and this year she again was trusted to walk in the procession in front of St. Lucia, while carrying a lit (yes, an 8-year-old carrying a lit one) candle! She was so proud of herself that she actually got to carry a candle while it was burning!
And here, is the whole court -St. Lucia for 2011 at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lanse, PA -with all four attendants and St. Lucia.
The dinner was quite nice last night too. We had Swedish meatballs -of course -along with lots and lots of other dishes ranging from roast pork to various potato dishes, casseroles, salads and some really great desserts! I got a bit daring last night and made a traditional Swedish dish called Panakaka -which in essence is just a plain baked custard but is a bit of a favorite at church dinners in our parish, along with a big casserole dish of fried cabbage and noodles! Now that dish -cabbage and noodles, or Halushki as many know it around these hills, is not a traditional Swedish dish but rather is Slovak in ethnicity but the ethnic backgrounds of many in this region tend to be either Swedish or Slovak plus, I happen to dearly love Halushki and have a recipe for it that I got from the lady who used to own/operate the truck stop where I worked for several years so I figured why not mix in a little of the other ethnic foods along with the Swedish stuff too! Oh, and I also made a batch of Swedish Limpa Rye Bread too -from a recipe I got via one of my Mom's cousins who just happens to be one of the best bread bakers I know -and I could tell from the "feel" of the dough for this bread as I was kneading it on Saturday afternoon that it was going to turn out really nice. And, I'm really happy to say I was right in that it turned out beautifully -perfect texture, nice and high and browned just right too! It looked and tasted just exactly like my cousin Arline's bread which really made me feel pretty darned good for having that accomplishment!
And now that this program, the dinner, is history for another year, for me, it means the Christmas season is here now -beginning to make me feel like it's a lot more like Christmas around the house, around the village and in neighboring towns.
And, I sense that feeling has spread to lots of others around too because people -those well-known as well as strangers -all seem to have a friendlier spirit about them now too.
Now if that same spirit -the smiles, the joy, the anticipatory feelings one gets from being around little children as they talk about what they expect to find under the tree Christmas morning -dare I say it, even the love that seems to be so bountiful in the air now -if that same spirit could just spread all over the world, think of what joy that would bring.
Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men! And maybe some of it began with the simple lighting of some candles to show the way -to be "The Light of the Earth!"
I don't know about you, but it works for me!