Sunday 13 December 2015

On December, 13th - and Third Sunday in the time of Advent

Carl Larsson

On the 13th of December, whatever the day, it is the feast of
Sainte Lucie

I should better say it is the feast of Sankta Lucia because this is no special feast or festivity in France. It is one for my family because we adopted it when we were in Sverige (Sweden).

Yes, I am sorry but I shall speak again of Scandinavia and of Sweden. Those years in Stockholm are among the happiest ones I have lived and the memories I have of them are like a light or, more exactly, like the candles of Lucia/Lucie/Lucy: they bright in the darkness through which I may go and they are warm in the cold I feel sometimes. People have all been kind to us there - very kind.

We adopted Sankta Lucia Festival the more easily that we had a great-aunt whose name was Lucie-Marie-Noëlie. She had been born on the 27th of December 1917, and was the only great-aunt that remained to us. She had been an "accident baby". My great-grand-mother had been very worried when she thought she had a fibroma, and after her husband had gone back to the trenches after a short permission to see his wife and his two adolescent children. My great-grand-mother phoned her gynecologist in Périgueux (the capital town of the département), and the chauffeur drove her to her appointment. She was very surprised when the doctor told her with a large smile that there was nothing to worry about: she was pregnant and she would have a baby by Christmas. That came as a thunder clap  ... or a miracle - I don't know which. What I have been told again and again is that it was utterly unexpected and mildly outrageous in my great-grand-mother's mind! (I hope -tongue in cheek- that you notice how modern and decisive my great-grand-mother was! Somebody like Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey"...)

My great-aunt was born then just after Christmas and had been Marie, Noëlie for Noël/Christmas, and Lucie. She was not very lucky as far as presents were concerned as her feast day, Christmas, her birthday, and New Year's Day were all gathered in about the same fortnight.

We always rung her up or wrote on the 13th of December, went to see her with presents on her birthday (when we were in the Dordogne), and wrote again for New Year's Day. All very dutifully but with love as well. She was known to us as  "Aunt Sweet" after I had christened her so, for she had gicen me sweets when Mother and Father were always reticent about these items for the well-being of our teeth.

One might say then that we were ready to celebrate with ardour the Sankta Lucia Festival when we arrived in Sweden.

Carl Larsson

Saint Lucy of Syracuse, in Sicily, came through the Légende Dorée by Jacques de Voragines with the missionaries who wanted to christianize Scandinavia. She met great success as there was already a pagan celebration about a Lussi and a festival about light in these dark countries. According to the legend, she had been martyred and had had her eyes torn out of her sockets. Therefore she was reputed afterwards to cure all illnesses linked with eyes. But it is her association with light through the Latin root lux that was decisive. In the old Julian calendar, she was feasted as the days began to move forward: the sun was on its raise again, giving more light to people. 

You will find all about Lucy in this link:, and Lucia in Sweden in this one:

What we loved was of course the tradition of the maid in white with her crown of candles and her attendants wearing white as well, and the ginger and cinnamon buns:

and the mulled wine or coffee to drink with them.

We loved the processions and the celebrations in churches with the choirs:

All this was in the cold city, adorned with myriads of lights, with the covered markets where one could buy smoked reindeer, salmon, piglets or hams as the tradition is pork for Christmas with apples, and the overpowering scent of spices. And there were the Christmas markets as well. 

I still feel the sense of warmth I found in the streets, in the old town, in the markets, although it was so cold really. I cannot reasonably explain this sense of warmth. I felt it and have never found it anywhere else. I felt welcome and at ease, and, as I wrote at the beginning of this entry, there was a true kindness that I met again in the Swedish community in Paris when we came back to France.

It would be too long to tell the story of one of my birthdays in Stockholm when one of Father's colleagues, who was one of the administrators of the Vasa Museum, had it open for me and organised a special visit of the Vasa ship where I was able to go aboard the venerable XVIIth century boat by special permission as it is strictly prohibited, and then a birthday party in one of the reception rooms of the museum overlooking the sea and the brackish water that bathe the city. 

Perhaps it was a city where I felt I was loved. One is not loved, liked or welcome everywhere...

Therefore, in between the celebration of the feast day of my miraculous great-aunt and the celebration of Sankta Lucia, the 13th of December has always been a special day for my family. More lights appear on this day, and more ornaments as it is an important step towards Christmas.

And today, this year, it is all the more important that it is the Third Sunday in the time of Advent, which is also called "Pink Sunday" in the Roman Catholic liturgy. The priests may wear pink vestments instead of the purple/violet ones that are the rule during Advent. In fact, very few do as liturgical garments are too expensive. It is the sign that the dawn of Christmas is nearer. And this Sunday is called "Gaudete" - Rejoice.

Whatever our life and its difficulties and sorrows, let us rejoice then and light candles or fairy lights. Let us think that days - spiritual and material - will be longer soon (at least in the Northern hemisphere). 

I wish you a peaceful and serene happiness. 

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion"
G. F. Händel - Messiah
Joan Sutherland

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