Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia

December 13 is the day that Scandinavian countries celebrate Santa Lucia day, or St. Lucy's day. There will be special breads and hot coffee and perhaps a candle wreath, for the head or for the table.

 The feast day of Santa Lucia is one that’s becoming more widely celebrated. Is it because more Midwestern Scandinavian descendents are moving to other climates? Are we seeing a move towards celebrating saints in Protestant churches? Or is it simply a neat holiday which gives us a chance to do something different with our Sunday School programming and Christmas pageant impulses?

I first heard about St. Lucia Day at our Lutheran church in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the tallest blonde girl, I was selected to lead the St. Lucia day procession when I was in my early teen years. The grown ups placed a wreath with candles on my head and lit the candles. The younger children carried their candles. I walked up the church aisle and held my head very still.

I still remember the exhilarating feeling of having burning candles near my hair. I remember hot wax dripping onto my shoulders--I was wearing clothes and a white robe over them, so it didn't hurt.

It felt both pagan and sacred, that darkened church, our glowing candles. I remember nothing about the service that followed.

A year or two later, Bon Appetit ran a cover story on holiday breads, and Santa Lucia bread was the first one that I tried.

A picture from that cover story


What a treat. For years, I told myself that baking holiday breads was a healthy alternative to baking Christmas cookies--but then I took a long, hard look at the butterfat content of each, and decided that I was likely wrong. I also decided that I didn’t care.

 I still bake that bread every year, and if you’d like to try, this blog post will guide you through it. If you’re the type who needs pictures, it’s got a link to a blog post with pictures.

As a feminist scholar and theologian, I’ve grown a bit uncomfortable with virgin saints, like Santa Lucia. Most sources say we don’t know much about her, which means that all sorts of traditions have come to be associated with her. Did she really gouge out her eyes because a suitor commented on their beauty? Did she die because she had promised her virginity to Christ? Was she killed because the evil emperor had ordered her to be taken to a brothel because she was giving away the family wealth? We don’t really know.

 The lives of these virgin saints show us how difficult life is in a patriarchal regime. It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture.

 Or we can simply enjoy a festival that celebrates light in a time of shadows.

I love our various festivals to get us through the dark of winter. When I lived in colder, darker places, I wished that the early church fathers had put Christmas further into winter, when I needed a break. Christmas in February makes more sense to me, even though I understand how Christmas ended up near the Winter Solstice.



 So, happy Santa Lucia day! Have some special bread, drink a bracing hot beverage, and light the candles against the darkness.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kristen

A couple of quick comments: I'm glad your experience with St. Lucia Day was so positive. While I was in grad school in Chicago, my family and I attended a Lutheran church with Swedish roots. A small handful of Swedish members persisted in celebrating St. Lucia's every year. Sadly it was mostly a time to force the oldest girl to wear a fake wreath with electric candles(!) on her head, to listen to an elderly Swede with an off-key tenor voice sing a Swedish folksong without translation. All the kids hated it, especially the girl that played St. Lucia and the star boys. A rather disastrous experience that the current pastor shortened to just ten to fifteen minutes rather than half an hour.
You comment that as a feminist scholar you dislike the tales about the virgin saints. You should read feminist patristics scholars for additional input. At the time most of these tales emerged, late antiquity, upper class women as young as ten or so became brides in arranged marriages. In many cases, these Christian women were married to non-Christian men and effectively raped as young adolescents.
Unfortunately the church, especially in the Middle Ages, developed these tales into a diatribe against female sexual immorality against the backdrop of the cult of the perpetually virgin Mary.
Just some additional perspectives.

A blessed Advent

Lynn
Lynn Allan Kauppi, PhD

Kristin said...

Thanks for commenting--interesting counterpoints!