My first introduction to Lucia-fest was in 1979. I was living in Iceland, working as a potter. my friend was dating a swedish girl, who worked in a hospital at Reykjalundur, and I got to know a group of friends working there and in other Reykjavik hospitals.
On the 13th december, Luciafest, I was invited to Reykjalundur, where the swedish girls had chosen their Lucia.
We waited in darkness, and the singing started. And the procession entered, a blonde girl with a green garland in her hair, a crown of light, wearing a white robe, with a red sash, singing. And, following her, more girls, each carrying a candle, their faces uplit, for a curmudgeon like me, it was beautiful, it was spiritual. 'Lucia' told us about the meaning of the tradition, we ate a meal of seasonal swedish dishes they had cooked, then someone told us the Northern Lights were in the sky, so we all went out, and lay on our backs on the grass, watching curtains of ethereal light flicker across the sky. It seemed a perfect companion to the bringers of the light.
In pagan times, people were never sure that the world was not ending, condemned to darkness and cold as the sun died. Only by festival and sacrifice could the sun be reborn, through death to renewed life.
But when christianity came to the north, there were two gods to appease, two rebirths.
The Norse king, Hakon the Good, made it the law that Jul (yule) was to be celebrated at the same time as the Chritsians celebrated Christ's Mass, this was his first move in converting his pagan countrymen to christianity, a stealth move, he knew his religion would be rejected if he proclaimed it openly, so he sought to gradually introduce it, as he built his own popularity.
"King Hakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but the whole country was heathen, with much heathen sacrifice. As many great people, as well as the favour of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private. He kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy days. He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale and keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted."
(Saga of Haakon the Good)
|candle trails at Salisbury Cathedral via The Nag on the Lake|