When I was growing up my grandfather was involved in the local Scandinavian club. Each December the Scandinavian club would host a Julbord feast, on the Sunday closest to December 13th, the feast day of Santa Lucia. It was a giant holiday potluck with many traditional Scandinavian dishes from pickled herring to kransekake and many thinks in between. One of the main parts of this annual gathering was the Santa Lucia pageant and carol singing. All the young girls and boys would participate, the tallest girl getting the honor of being Lucia and having the candle crown. We all had candles and would enter into the room where the lights had been dimmed singing the Santa Lucia song. This time of year those memories come flooding back from the many years of Julbord feasts. I find myself humming or singing the song. As a child I did not know the words to the song and would just hum along as I learned the tune. Over time I learned how to sing the Swedish:
Natten går tunga fjät runt gård och stuva. Kring jord som soln förgät, skuggorna ruva. Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus. Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia. Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Night comes with heavy steps through our land, calling. Sunlight, the earth forgets; shadows are falling. However dark the night, rising with candles bright, Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
At some point over the years as my grandparents aged we stopped attending Julbord but pieces of that tradition continued on with us. Over time holiday traditions change and mold to where we are at in a given year, in a given time and place. This year many of our holiday traditions won’t be happening as usual and it will be hard to grieve the loss of some of those things. In a year where we have lost so much it can be hard to think about giving up our Holiday celebrations. Yet at the same time this year is allowing us to be more creative in the ways we connect with those near and far, and it is also giving us an opportunity to keep things small and intimate with our immediate household. We can take pieces of our usual traditions and use them to create something new and special.
I haven’t attended a Julbord or formal celebration of the feast day of Santa Lucia in years, but I still tend to celebrate it in my own way, whether listening to or singing the Santa Lucia song in Swedish, or making spritz cookies like I did with my mom and grandmother when I was growing up, or reflecting on the many years of memories while locating where I hung my Lucia ornament on my tree. Though these may be small things they bring me back to the traditions and memories from my childhood.
In this year of so much loss it is ever important to find ways to hold to tradition or to recall traditions from the past. Finding hope and joy in the memories of years past. Maybe remembering an old tradition that you can bring back this year with those in your household. Just because things will be very different for many of us this year doesn’t mean that the memories won’t be as special when we look back in years to come and remember the year we created new traditions or brought some old ones back in a new way. I feel that more than just being what we always do to celebrate the holidays, our traditions are about the relationships and time spent together with those you love, that is what makes whatever you are doing special.
Yet, I write this knowing that there will still be many for whom this won’t be a possibility, whether it be distance or loss that makes this year even harder. That there are those for whom the holidays are always hard. If you know someone who struggles this time of year or who you know is struggling with the holidays this year reach out. Check in with them. Even if you don’t know reach out to your friends and family, maybe a cousin or uncle you haven’t talked to in a while, or a friend that you have lost touch with. We all need each other and connection to community, and I think we need it more than ever this year.
However you will be spending your holiday season, I pray that you find moments of peace and joy, moments of laughter and reflection, and that you find connection and love with those around you (whether physically or on a screen).