Sankta Lucia

December 13, and the solstice of Midwinter is but a week away. Until then, the nights grow deeper, longer, darker. In the midst of that growing darkness, we welcome today the next of the Midwinter gift bearers: Saint Lucy, the light bearer, patron saint of those with vision problems and of the blind. She was from Sicily and so she is sacred to Italy, where she is known as Santa Lucia (pronounced loo-chee-a). But she is perhaps best known in Sweden, of all places, where she is called Sankta Lucia (pronounced with a soft C, loo-see-a). For many in Sweden, breakfast today was served in the darkness, which is long there near the Arctic Circle, by a Lucia dressed in white, walking through the house with a wreath of lit candles upon her head, delivering coffee and saffron buns, lussekatter, to the drowsy household. She is usually the oldest daughter.

Our neighbor old Mr. Solderholm, when his young granddaughter was visiting one winter, told her about the tradition of the Sankta Lucia. She was cool about it and didn’t seem too impressed by his tales of what Decembers used to be like, but she did surprise him all the same the next morning, at his bedroom door, in the still and holy darkness, bearing a flashlight, a Coca-Cola, and two Pop Tarts on a platter. Afterwards, he had a splitting headache clear through to lunchtime, but he could not stop talking about this fine thing that his granddaughter had done for him. It is a lovely thing to have this gift of light bestowed upon you.

In Sweden, where Mr. Solderholm’s family is from, there are processions throughout the country tonight celebrating Sankta Lucia, in churches, in schools, in city streets, on national television. The Lucia will be wearing a crown of lit candles on her head, just like the Lucias that delivered breakfast this morning. The processions can get quite large, with scores of attendants to the Lucia: boys and girls each bearing a candle, and then the Star Boys, each carrying stars on poles and donning huge white conical caps. Everyone is dressed in white––“White,” Jane Siberry says, “the color of truth.” The sounds of the procession are a symphony of bells and the Neapolitan melody “Santa Lucia,” but with Swedish lyrics, my favorite part being Natten går tunga fjät, which translates to “The night walks with heavy steps.” Such a beautiful image, and such a beautiful song. You can feel it warming the air, you can feel it bearing light in the darkness. That light and its spirit is what we wish you on this night of heavy steps. And––if you happen to have a Swedish bakery nearby––we wish you lussekatter, as well.

 

Image: “Sankta Lucia Procession in Denmark.” Photograph by Per Palmkvist Knudsen, 2006 [Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons].

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 12 brings the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sacred to all the Americas but especially to Mexico. The story begins in 1531 with Juan Diego, who was just a regular guy in Mexico. He saw an apparition of a woman on a hill near Mexico City, and she asked him to build a church in her honor there on the hill. She spoke to him in his native Nahuatl language and he recognized her, by the things she told him, as the Virgin Mary.

The iconic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that we know so well miraculously appeared inside Juan Diego’s cloak on the 12th of December, 1531: on one of his visits to the hill, Mary told Juan Diego to go to the barren top of the hill, but when he got there, he found it not at all barren but awash with blooming roses. He and Mary gathered the roses and she arranged them inside his cloak. And on this, her feast day, Juan Diego opened his cloak before the bishop of Mexico City. When he did, the flowers all fell to the floor, revealing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The bishop took it as a sign. The church was built, and the image from Juan Diego’s cloak, or tilma, hangs still inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

The image on the tilma is considered miraculous by church doctrine, for many reasons. Some are more fascinating than others. My favorite has to do with the stars on Mary’s cloak: they appear only on her cloak; not on her tunic. But, if we superimpose the image from the tilma on an image of the stars in the heavens as they appeared on the 12th of December, 1531, they are said to correspond exactly with the constellations that day, and if her tunic and the rest of the image was filled with stars, too, they would complete the picture and on Mary’s head would be the constellation Corona Borealis: Northern Crown. Queen of Heaven? Perhaps. What is certain is that this is a day of festivity throughout Mexico and Latin America. And then tomorrow will bring the Feast of Santa Lucia, another midwinter gift bearer and a light in the darkness. If you have a Swedish bakery nearby, go look for Lussekatter––saffron buns in the shape of an S… they’re made especially for Sankta Lucia’s Night!

Image: Our artisan friends in San Miguel de Allende love Our Lady of Guadalupe and use her image on many of the things they make, including this painted tin tea light holder that we just began selling this fall.

 

Darkest Nights, Deepest Joys

The nights have been growing longer since June and in two weeks time, we reach the culmination of that progression of darkness: it will be the Midwinter Solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. By now, in early December, as each day grows shorter and each night longer, it is easy to get lost in the darkness. But our celebrations at this time of year call down the light. Last Sunday, we celebrated with candlelight across traditions: It was the First Night of Hanukkah and the First Sunday of Advent. Wednesday night brought the Eve of St. Nicholas and Thursday, St. Nicholas’ Day. He is the first of our midwinter gift bearers, leaving small, simple presents in the shoes of sleeping children. Next week will come Santa Lucia, who also pierces the darkness with light––in Sweden, at the top of the world near the Arctic Circle, where darkness envelops the greater part of each day this time of year, she is known as Sankta Lucia. Young girls there will wear crowns of lit candles on their heads, as star boys accompany them with light of their own, all of them singing the most haunting song, “Sankta Lucia,” an old Italian melody sung with the distinctly soft S sounds that come with Swedish lyrics.

These are some of our favorite nights of the year, these nights leading up to the magic of Christmas. To help you keep track of each of them, here is our December gift to you: the Convivio Book of Days Calendar for December. It’s a PDF document, printable on standard US Letter size paper, a fine companion to this Book of Days (especially on the days when I don’t have time to write, which has happened a lot lately). As we progress through December, the darkness will increase, but so will our candlelight as we complete the Hanukkah festival and go through our Advent journey toward Christmas, preparing the light of the world. The illumination, the imagery, is powerful magic in dark times. We’re here sharing it with you throughout. These are some of our deepest joys.

COME SEE US!
We’re popping up at two local pop-up markets this week, one in Boca Raton on Friday, and the other on Sunday afternoon right here in Downtown Lake Worth. We’re also working on popping up at the Lake Worth Nutcracker Festival on Saturday December 15… but we keep forgetting to submit our application. Perhaps tomorrow. These, meanwhile, are definitely on the calendar:

REAL MAIL FRIDAYS: Winter Card Writing Social
Friday December 7 from 12 noon to 6 PM
Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library, Boca Raton
We’ll be in the company of a few other local makers with a mini pop-up shop of traditional handmade goods for Christmas made by artisans in Germany’s Ergebirge and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It’s a fun event designed to help you get your holiday cards written and in the mail.

REVELRY LAKE WORTH SIP & SHOP
Sunday December 9 from 1 to 6 PM
Revelry Lake Worth
17 South J Street in Downtown Lake Worth, in the outdoor courtyard.
We’ll be in a tent with our Shaker herbs and teas, wreaths made of candy, and traditional handmade goods for Christmas made by artisans in Germany’s Ergebirge and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

And for our friends who are not so near…
CONVIVIO by MAIL
Our Convivio Book of Days Catalog pages are full of great little holiday presents, from handmade soaps (the gingerbread man is back!) to genuine Shaker culinary herbs and herbal teas to traditional Christmas decorations from Germany, Spain, and Mexico… our favorite this year may just be the painted tin nativity that opens like a pop-up book and folds down flat when you’re done with it. FREE SHIPPING for domestic orders when you spend $50… spend less and shipping is just a flat rate fee of $8.50. No coupon code necessary; free shipping happens automatically when you spend $50 or more.