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Light in Darkness

12 December 2011

Tomorrow, the 13th of December, Santa Lucia Day will be celebrated throughout Scandinavia. I decided to retell the story of Santa Lucia for this blogpost, but when I Googled it to check my facts, I realized that the details surrounding her sainthood varied. Admittedly, Santa Lucia Day in Scandinavia is a mixture of a Christian celebration and an ancient pagan festival of light on one of the year’s darkest days — Lussinatta, or Lussi Night. What is of most importance is that Lucia means “light.”

In the Norwegian version she is a young woman who wore a wreath of candles in her hair while trying to hide Christians from the evil Roman Emperor Diocletian. Quite simply, she brought light to those in need.

In the Sicilian version, however, she is a young virgin who wanted to devote her life to God and was then tortured mob-style by the Roman authorities after refusing to marry. Her punishment was to burn on a pyre, but when the soldiers tried to lift her she became as heavy as stone. The soldiers then stabbed her in the heart (or throat), but she did not die. Some versions tell that the soldiers gauged her eyes out, others that she tore them out herself (Oh Sicilians and their drama!). Thus, in the Catholic tradition Santa Lucia is also the patron saint of the blind.

During November and December I like to compare myself to the cavefish who live in the dark caves and deep lakes of the southern United States. In these black homes eyes would be useless, and so the cavefish have evolved without eyes; they can only perceive a difference between light and dark. “Pretty soon we’ll be like those cavefish and our eyes will disappear,” I say with conviction to my children, who defy me by rolling theirs.

I think Norwegians have managed to keep their eyes because they are so very, very good at dispelling darkness, as proven by the fact that they consume the largest amount of electricity per capita in Europe. (After seven, half-years in darkness my environmental consciousness has seen fit to pardon this.) The entire city of Bergen lights up on the first Sunday of advent, lighted stars are hung in the windows of each home, and Santa Lucia Day will be celebrated with candles and candles and more candles. Candles in windows, candles on tables, candles on fireplace mantles – enough candles to set the whole country glowing. Enough that I begin to cherish the darkness for making the candles brighter.

And then, on the 22nd of December, my daughter’s preschool will hold my favorite holiday of the year – Solsnu-fest, the “Sun Turn Party.” We will celebrate the tilting of the earth’s axis back towards the sun, and the turning of our lives once again to light.

To watch a video of the Santa Lucia celebrations, click here. Lyrics to the song follow in Norwegian and English.

Shining Lights

Santa Lucia (norsk):

Svart senker natten seg
i stall og stuer.

Solen har gått sin vei,
skyggene truer.
Inn i vårt mørke hus
stiger med tente lys
Sanc-ta Lu-ci-a, Sancta Luc-cia.

Natten er mørk og stum.
Med ett det suser
i alle tyste rum
som vinger bruser.
Se, på vår terskel står
hvitkledd med lys i hår
Sanc-ta Lu-ci-a, Sancta Luc-cia.

Mørket skal flykte snart
fra jordens daler.
Slik hun et underfullt
ord til oss taler.
Dagen skal atter ny
stige av røde sky –
Sanc-ta Lu-ci-a, Sancta Luc-cia.

Santa Lucia (English):

Black the night sinks
in the stable and living rooms.

The sun has gone away,
shadows looming.
Inside our dark house
rises with lit candles
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

The night is dark and silent.
At once the rush
in all the hushed rooms
like wings roar.
Look at our threshold stands
white dress with light hair
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

The darkness will flee soon
from the earth’s valleys.
So are the wonderful
words she speaks to us.
The day will yet again
rise of the red sky –
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. justine permalink
    13 December 2011 01:08

    Gorgeous filmclip! (Although, I do think the children should be encouraged to learn it in Italian).
    No Lucia fish in the American lakes?
    Hugs from sunburnt Australia xx

  2. 13 December 2011 10:34

    Hi Justine! Thanks for commenting. So strange to think of you so far away in sunny Australia as we sit in darkness and cold. I’m sure you remember it well! 🙂

  3. 14 December 2011 13:43

    What an informative post! It prompted me to reflect on my own children´s Santa Lucia celebrations in pre-school and first grade. They were so sweet and proud! It also reminded me of the first year we were here, when I had NO IDEA what I was supposed to do when a group of very cute kids sang and passed out `s´shaped rolls when I answered the door.

    I had never read an English translation of the song, and didn´t realize the Italian´s have their own version of the story. I thought it was solely Swedish. I have so mush to learn!!!! Thank you.


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