The Festival of Santa Lucia is on Dec. 13 and it is celebrated in most of the Nordic countries. Saint Lucy is sometimes referred to, "The Lady of Lights and Sweets" because she would hand out food to hungry villagers. Stories vary between countries and reach back as far as about 300 A.D. The tradition seems to have started in Sicily, but today, Santa Lucia Day is huge in places like Norway and Sweden.
And, in the early 1980s, Santa Lucia was a pretty big deal at The Willows Condominium Community in Alameda on Shoreline Drive.
Growing up, my parents had become became close friends with a very kind and warm-hearted couple my dad met through engineering. Their names were Barbro and Rolf. They were Swedish and they frequently had us over to their condo for dinner and fudge on Saint Lucia Day.
Barbro made the best homemade fudge.
After a few years, they invited my sister and I to reenact the Santa Lucia procession. And we did so, annually, for about five years.
Tradition had it that girls dress in white robes with a red sash around the waist. The oldest girl (my sister Eva) was to wear the "crown of lights" (or as we called it, the burning "ring of fire") and would be the leader. Since we were only at The Willows and not in a church, my sister and her court (me) walked from the bedroom downstairs, through the hallway, up the stairs, through the living room, to the dining room and then back again. All the while singing a song about Santa Lucia cleverly entitled, "Santa Lucia."
My parents and the other guests sang along and clapped when we were done. Barbro mentioned how much our procession reminded her of home. She'd be so touched and moved, she let us eat all the homemade fudge we wanted!
Now, a behind the scenes look at what would really go down:
A metal wreath-like apparatus would be placed on my sister's head. The wreath was covered in leaves and held somewhere between five and 1000 candles. I had to wear a wreath too. But since I was not the original girl on fire like Eva, my wreath was just made out of leaves.
Best part? I got to hold my one, singular candle in my hands. Thank goodness, too. Because if you take into consideration my blatant abuse of hair products, it very well could have been a disaster of epic, Michael Jackson proportions.
Being the youngest in the family was not often desired, but it did have its perks.
Once we were dressed and Eva was purposely set on fire, we would wait for the record of, "Santa Lucia" to start playing. When we heard the opening lines, we'd start the parade. Now, Eva and I aren't Swedish nor Italian, which is the traditional language of the song. So, it was kind of like the National Anthem.
We'd sing the few parts we knew REALLY LOUD and then just mumble the rest in hopes the adults would fill in the missing words with their own voices and not notice.
We'd have to walk excruciatingly slow because the candles balancing on Eva's head were just regular candles. Meaning, they would drip hot wax on her scalp with the slightest movement. Between this and the stench of burning human hair, after year three, Barbro knew to take the batteries out of the smoke detectors.
We'd eventually make our way to the stairs and this is where it got tricky. My sister is tall, about 5 ft. 9 inches, and the stairway at The Willows is not. She'd have to walk fast enough not to light the ceiling on fire, but slow enough as to not end up in the hospital due to third-degree burns.
We performed this holiday pageant only once per year, but the impact was everlasting. Because whenever we'd go over to Barbro and Rolf's, Eva would nudge me in the ribs, giggle, and point up. There, on the ceiling, was a black line of soot from the top of the stairwell to the bottom.
It was like her own personal battle scar.
Why did we ever agree to do this you ask? Maybe it was because we were full of the holiday spirit. Maybe it was simply because our parents asked us to. Probably because they knew it meant something special to their dear friends. Maybe it really is better to give than it is to receive.
Or maybe it's because we really, really like homemade fudge.
Speaking of giving and receiving, next week will be the last, "Grain of Salt". I want to thank Alameda and Patch for giving me the opportunity to ramble about nothing every Friday morning and for someone like me who has never written publicly or professionally before, it was a wonderful experience.
See you one more time next week!