måndag, december 12, 2005

Happy Sankta Lucia

Scene: Generations of Americans, catching an occasional image of a blonde girl with candles in her hair, with each assuming that the precious creature fits somehow into the fold of a Rockwellian religion. She must be some sort of angel or precious servant girl greeting the baby Jesus in her jammies, with candles in her hair and roses on her cheeks. How quaint. How sweet. How very Peace on Earth.

I: What is the story? Can you translate the song? How can their voices sound as if they are but one?
He: (Silence).

The first year, we took our daughter to an old church near the 700 hundred year old square. It was standing room only, so we walked up alongside the pews until the volume of other visitors and hanging coats halted us behind a white support beam. I tried to see. I craned my neck. I patted the back of our child with such nervous please don't make a sound fervor that she responded with a relentless stream of curdled milk that found a home atop the dry-clean only sleeve of her father's coat. We left the church before I could figure out Ms. Lucia's story line.

"Sant Lucy. She's the patron saint of light," someone offered upon my return to the States. "She was a martyr for her faith. They tortured her and tore her eyes out. It is depicted in a famous statute, where she stands holding those eyeballs on plate. Light, lights, candles, get it?"

No, I decided. That wasn't right. I hadn't seen any of this Italian version on my trip; no grossness on a tray. Only coffee and some rolls in my version. I had more investigation to do.

Year two was equally unenlightening. We came to the old church early enough to get a seat, which meant that we came early enough for the toddler to decide to take entertainment matters into her own hands. On this dark evening with magic candles and captive adults, she decided to challenge the acapella voices with a, "Hi! Hi! Hi!" to everyone around us. Not "Hej! Hej! Hej!" which would have been the Swedish equivalent, but the very clear, identity-betraying American version.

For year three I decided to bring the holiday safely inside the house. The heck with the story. I would look it up on the internet if I got a chance. What mattered most was a white dress, something for her hair, and a tray to hold food. H&M solved the apparel issue with a circular rack full of white gowns, but what could be done about the head piece? I walked a pedestrian street and ventured into a florist shop. I was nervous. I wasn't sure what I was asking for, and whatever it was, I didn't know how to ask for it. Eventually I decided I wanted "that" and stood in line to pay. When it was my turn at the cash register, I walked up to the kindly Dawson's Creek kind of lumberjack of an owner who had just given his assistant a break. I reached for the money that I had conveniently placed in an easily accessible pocket, and proceeded to jam the zipper into the pocket lining. Suddenly, I felt like a Dicken's waif: 120 cm's tall and mute. I blushed crimson until the owner came around to where I was standing and began tugging at the snagged zipper. "I have daughters, so I think I can do this" he said, in English.

Probably convinced that if left to my own devices I would succeed in little more than setting her granddaughter's head on fire, my mother-in-law extended a gracious offer of help. She led me to a store with battery operated candles and adjustable head piece in forever-after evergreen. She handed me a box of silver tree garland and gesticulated quite clearly that this was for the belt. With the nod of her head to the cashiers, I knew that I had just acquired the insider's stuff on this holiday, and I was proud. On the morning of December 13, 2003, one little half-Swede half-American girl got all dressed up for her Papa in a white gown with a silver belt and carried in a tray full of muesli and orange juice for breakfast. We hadn't had time to get the food part figured out.
For Year Four I thought it would be nice to learn to sing the song and understand the story. Oddly enough, though, I discovered that there wasn't any manger scene in my translation. No new-born baby part, and certainly no eyeballs on a tray. No, this holiday had a much more pragmatic rationale. The holiday was all about getting through the dark, pre-Gregorian Winter Solstice and finding something pretty and sweet to think about in the process. So she and I loaded up the tray with buns, gingersnaps, and Belgian chocolates (just because) . Six hours later, we arrived at what we thought was to be a spectacular Sankta Lucia parade and found instead a three-hour long equestrian show for Icelandic-ish ponies, in Swedish, in a 20 degree stadium. Fahrenheit.

This year, we are all separated by oceans. My youngest wanted very much to be the Angel, as she calls it, and this time the Angel who gets to ride the head pony, and I wish I could give it to her. It is a tranquil and lovely holiday that reminds us that soon the days will be brighter. No conflicting Gods; just a day to remind us that soon nature will reset the sun.

And it will.

Natten går tunga fjät runt gård och stuva.
The night goes heavily stomping around the farm and cottage.

Kring jord som sol förlät, skuggorna ruva.
Around earth, as the sun forgot, the shadows spread.

Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus,
Then on our darkest house, comes shining light

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum. Nu hör, det svingar,
The night was big and still. Now hear, its swings!

I alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.
In all our silent rooms, whispars as of wings

Se på vår tröskel står vitkläd, med ljus i hår,
See on our threshold there, standing clad in white, with lights in her hair

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret skall flykta snart ur jordens dalar.
Darkness shall flee soon, out earthly valleys.

Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
So she a wonderful word to us brings

Dagen skall åter gry, stiga ur rosig sky,
The day shall rise anew, from the rosy sky.

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia