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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lucia~December 13

When I was in first grade, a new girl came to my elementary school.  Her Mom was from Sweden, her Dad, an American architect.  She and I became friends and I was invited to her house on several occasions.  Her mother, was one of the first true characters I ever met.  She wasn't warm and fuzzy like all the other Mom's I knew.  She didn't hang out in the kitchen offering us snacks or concerning herself with our happiness.  In the the sitting room outside her bedroom she had a giant loom, where she was frequently found weaving fabric.  She had long straight hair, a funny accent, a glass eye that wouldn't look at you, and smoked pipes and cigarellos.  Most of our other friends were a little frightened by this woman.  I wasn't.  Even as a child, I was drawn to her eccentricities.

Their home was an extremely modern design, with a scandinavian vibe, designed by their Dad.  It was a three story house built hanging on a rocky hillside.  The top floor was occupied by the kitchen.  That's it.  The second floor had the master bedroom and a sitting room/living room.  The bottom floor had three bedrooms and another bathroom.  Each floor was connected by steep stacked open stairs each with a curved landing providing a place for the stairs to come back beside themselves.  One day when I was visiting the home, Mrs. B. was working the loom.  As I made my way down the steps from the kitchen to my friends bedroom, I paused to watch her.  It was the coolest thing, I had ever seen. She saw me lurking on the steps, and invited me into the room to watch her worked.

I remember the room being mostly white, with splashes of colorful textiles, that she had weaved.  The faint scent of cigar, and pipe tobacco lingered in the air. I was drawn to some family photos sitting on an expansive window sill.  They were black and white shots set in modern frames.  So unlike the gold and inlaid wood ones at my house.  There were pictures of my friend in a snowy dark setting, with a wreath on her head with four candles.  Lit.  I couldn't stop looking at it.  First, that was a lot of snow.  Second, I was struck at how beautiful my friend looked lit in the darkness with the glow of candles illuminating her face.  How important she looked.  I was a little jealous.  But there was another emotion that began to rise the longer I stared at the image.  Fear.

What kind of twisted tradition hands a kindergartener a candle, and straps a lit topiary to their head?  In my vast 7 years of experience, I hadn't even been allowed on the same latitude with matches.  They were kept out of my reach, and under no circumstances was I allowed to touch them.  If my Dad made a fire in our fireplace, we were instructed to keep a safe distance from it.  Fire, as far as I was concerned, was dangerous and forbidden!

Mrs. B paused from her work when she noticed my fascination with the photo.  She asked if I wanted to see more.  Of course, I did.  She stood, walked across the room, and took a photo album off the bookcase.  We sat down on the boxy white sectional.   Mrs. B told me the photos were from Lucia Day in her village in Sweden.  Every year at the darkest time of the winter, there was a procession of girls through the village with candles to light the darkness and warm the cold with songs of hope and promise for the sunlight's return.

As she showed me the photos she told me that in Sweden all the girls wore white dresses and held candles, but only one girl was chosen to wear the lit wreath. The Lucia. They would get up before the sun rose, get into their gauzy white frocks, and go out into the cold winter snow. She informed me, it was a great honor to be chosen as Lucia. I thought that was funny, because in my country, the one who draws the shortest straw would be most at risk of getting their hair set on fire.   In first grade,  I wasn't a huge fan of the dark. So waking up early and going out in the freezing cold darkness.  I couldn't see how that could be a good thing. Snow was ok though.

Still I couldn't help being drawn to the beauty of the images.  My friend had seemed to survive the ordeal, as evidenced by her coming to find me so we could get on with on our play date.  I guess Lucia couldn't be all bad.

This year I got to experience my first Lucia.  I learned a few more important facts about Lucia in Sweden today.

First off, you will be relieved to know that they no longer use real candles.  Whew.  They have battery operated torches to light the darkness.  This makes it a much safer holiday for small children then in previous time periods.  Also crack of dawn, not really that early. Sun rose at 8:36 today. 

Nowadays in preschools, around Sweden anyone can be a Lucia, even boys.  They can also choose to be a Tomta (santa), a Stjärngosser (a star boy-imagine Gandolf meets a dunce cap with some stars), or Pepparkaka (a gingerbread person).  Pepparkakkor in the shape of hearts, are also eaten in large quantities this day with plenty of coffee to wash them down.  Lussekatter  are also eaten.  They are saffron buns and the designated pastry for Lucia.  We found them to be an acquired taste. Maybe the ones with gluten are better.

I have some photos from the day, but all the concerts were given in the dark, with flash prohibited, so, the photos are, well,  you'll see.  All in all, the day was just as mesmerizing as my friends photo, filled with illuminated faces, song, and snow.

A Lucia concert at a typical Swedish föskola
Lucias, and Rudolph on the sax
.
Pepparkakkor (and one lone Stjärngosser on the end)
Tomtar, blurred to protect their identity


A little pyrotechnics for the finale...Sparklers held by the teachers.





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