Being a Christmas person, I’m usually happy to embrace most traditions connected with this time of year. But there’s one I’m having a bit of trouble digesting. That is, not the tradition itself, but rather a stubbornly conservative interpretation of it.
On December 13th, most of Sweden (and Swedish speaking parts of Finland) celebrate an Italian martyr, Saint Lucia, who is thought to bring some much-needed light into Nordic winter darkness.
For non-Swedes/Finns: here’s the “traditional” version of the festivities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk0FyZqNp5Q&feature=share and some background info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucy%27s_Day
This all seems straightforward enough, you might think. And yes, I don’t mind anything that brightens our midwinter gloom. It’s just that I don’t feel at all comfortable with the notion that the person doing the glowing always has to be a blonde and blue-eyed young woman. Other important traits for a “traditional” Lucia-figure are being pretty, rather sheepish and utterly harmless. In other words: a rather 1950s version of “real woman” and by no means a role model I’d wish my daughters (or any girl) to embrace.
The annual choosing of who’s to portray Lucia is a near-tragedy in many schools, where young girls are subjected to tough scrutiny: who’s blonde enough, sings sweetly enough, and above all: has the right “image” for the role? That obviously being the nice, traditional girlie girl; you don’t see too many pierced punk rocker Lucias, wheel-chair bound Lucias, dark-skinned Rastafari Lucias – or just simply male ones, for that matter.
In Sweden this discussion has (wisely) been raised in some schools by kids themselves. With wonderful clarity they’ve asked their teachers who cares in what form the light enters our gloomy darkness? Is the experience any less uplifting, if the candles are worn by – for instance – a boy? Unfortunately, so far the answer has often been negative – apparently, even in year 2011, it’s still not considered manly to wear a dress and put candles in your hair. Here’s the sad and short story (in Swedish) of a boy, who wanted to honour the tradition in his own way:
So, tradition for many people still seems to mean exclusion. I wonder what the real Saint Lucia (who gave her life standing up for her beliefs) would have thought about that…?