Sunday, December 20, 2009
St Lucia was an early Christian, living in Sicily. As is traditional in these stories, her parents were not happy with her choice of lifestyle—sound familiar, anyone?—and her mother set up an arranged marriage with a young pagan gentleman. There was nothing wrong with this young man except his religion, but Lucia refused to marry him and put out her own eyes, blinding herself, rather than go through with the ceremony. For this , she received sainthood. When Christianity made its way North, to what is now Sweden, they took St Lucia with them and grafted it onto old pagan celebrations there. Now, young girls is Sweden wake early (I’ve realized, living in Oregon, further north than Portsmouth New Hampshire, that this was not as great a sacrifice as it may seem. The sun rises after seven these days, especially in the rain), don white dresses, place a wreath of lighted candles in their hair, and bring buns and coffee around to the rest of the house, singing songs. Animals also receive special treats in the morning. They reenact the ceremony, with young boys wearing pointed blue hats with moons and stars on them, in the churches later in the day. It’s all about bringing light and hope back into the darkness.
I’ve always loved the visions of lighted candles and the idea of special buns, and years ago, Kris and I made them in the Bakery one evening, left them to rise overnight, and baked and sold them early the next morning. They were great warm from the oven. For years, I made the buns, curled on either end like an “S” and fed them to people. But the early morning thing…it didn’t happen. One year, I was wanting to share the buns and thought about having a gathering here, at the house. Invite people over for breakfast and have Lucia Buns and anything else they wanted to bring, then maybe go for a walk together. Not a bad idea—but the house is tiny and I had a long list of people to invite. Mark and I considered the options – which included holding the party in the garage at one point—and decided to move the whole thing outdoors. Bald Hill. It has the open barn so we were sheltered from the weather and a good trail to the top; it is in town, within biking distance for our friends without cars; and we all rarely go there, because it is so close. It was perfect.
We have been hosting the Lucia Day walk for six or seven years now. We gather at the barn around 8 am on Saturday morning, rain, snow, or fog. Some people carpool; some ride their bikes. I light a candle and place the little Lucia figure near it. Mark pours hot cocoa into everyone’s mugs—Swiss Miss, made nice and strong. We unveil the tray of buns, now made of a lovely whole wheat and squash recipe so that they are golden like the sun. There is seedless blackberry jam. I lay out a dozen oranges from the high school baseball team fundraiser—small orange suns on a beam. The sun comes up. Sometimes it is clear and we can see it rise over the mountains. Usually, it is cloudy—low cloud hanging like fog over the fields, or high clouds thinking about rain later in the day. Once in a while, we have snow. It doesn’t matter. We are protected under the barn roof while we gather. We talk. We admire the day, even when the weather is, technically, lousy. We are Hardy Folk, wrapped in wool and rain gear, drinking cocoa.
At some point, we pack up the food to keep it away from roaming dogs, tuck oranges in our pockets, and head up the hill. It’s not a long hike—no more than a couple of miles round trip—but the view from the top looks out over the entire valley. We stand, watch the sun, eat the oranges, talk some more, then head down. We’re home by about 10:30. Every year, the group shifts and changes—but there are always eight to ten people willing to get up before dawn on Saturday morning, pull on layers of clothes, and come to Bald Hill for Lucia Day buns and cocoa and the walk.