It's one of my favorite moments of the Christmas Season: we turn off all of the other lights in the house, and light up the Christmas tree, for the first time. The house is bathed in reds and greens and golds.
The lights of Christmas are soft and subtle. Candles and stars. They are different from other lights. They seem to illuminate only what is important. They are not exposing, they are revealing. Everything looks prettier, lit by Christmas lights.
In the early morning hours of December 13, she dons the simple white robe and red sash. Upon her head is placed a crown of candles. She leads a procession of younger children through the darkened homes, bearing light and nourishment, to those within.
She is Santa Lucia. The Queen of Light.
In Sweden, December 13 is St Lucia's Day. Legend says that Lucia was a Christian martyr of the fourth century. How this beautiful, Sicilian Saint (and in predominantly Lutheran Sweden too) came to be associated with the far, northern lands of Scandinavia, is something of a mystery. But there may be a clue in her name -- Lucia. It is derived from the Latin word Lux, which means Light.
In the ancient Julian calendar, December 13 was the night of the winter solstice -- the end of the long journey into darkness. The return of the light. Today, in the those northern latitudes, darkness comes in the very early afternoon.
Light is precious.
My family is of Swedish decent, and we began keeping the tradition of Santa Lucia when Jordan, my oldest (and inheritor of all the Scandinavian genes) was very small. We modify it slightly. Traditionally, Lucia carries coffee and saffron buns, but we're not coffee drinkers, and have you seen the price of saffron?!? So, it's usually hot chocolate or wassail, and cinnamon rolls or cookies, at our house.
We also like to tie it in to the larger celebration of Christmas, as well. After all, isn't that really what Christmas is all about:
The Light, which pierces the darkness.