by Mitchel Whitington
Are you thinking about trying to sell a Christmas article to a national magazine? If so, be forewarned, competition is fierce! There are more articles submitted about a "down home" Christmas than you can shake a holly bough at. Thinking about taking the "origins of Saint Nick" angle? Hey, get in a very long line. Traditional topics have been done to death. To increase your chances of a sell, you'll need something unique. Most periodicals have their Christmas deadlines set several months in advance, and many are making plans for their December issue during the sweltering summer months, so make sure that you understand the publication schedule of your target. Seems like a lot to worry about, I know; but even with a topic as festive as Christmas, a writer needs to put on their "business hat" to succeed.
One problem that most Yuletide authors have is finding a fresh approach to the holiday. Themes from Christmas trees to Santa Clause have been examined from every conceivable angle. A fresh alternative has been slowly creeping into American culture, though, and to find out more about it only takes a glance across the ocean.
In the early morning hours of December 13th, the small, rural house is dark. The parent's bedroom is silent. In the kitchen, though, there is a hushed, excited banter among the children of the house as the pastries are placed carefully on the trays, and the freshly-brewed coffee is poured into cups. The eldest daughter, costumed in a white gown with red sash, lights the ring of candles and carefully lifts it up to rest on her head. Her brother hands her the tray containing the goodies, and she leads the procession toward her parent's room. As they tiptoe down the hallway, the melodic song begins: Now the light is carried forth, proud on its crown, in every house, and every home, the song shall ring.
It is the morning of St. Lucia's Day in Sweden. The event that is taking place in this home is being mirrored across many Scandinavian countries, and has been since Medieval times. Luciadagen, St. Lucia's Day, is a very important holiday that signals the beginning of the Christmas season. Traditionally, the eldest daughter in the home portrays St. Lucia and serves the elder members of the family coffee and pastries in bed to honor them. It is a time when Grandparents and other family members often crowd into the house to spend the night in preparation for the morning's celebration.
The girl's costume is a white robe to symbolize the purity of the Italian saint. A red sash symbolizes the martyred blood of St. Lucia, and atop her head is a crown of lingonberry or holly woven around a ring of burning candles. The other children are not excluded from the celebration, however. Younger sisters dress as Maidens, wearing white robes with a crown of silver tinsel and each bearing a single lit candle. The boys of the family wear the white robes as well, and don cone-shaped hats decorated with stars. The boys are called Starngossar, or Star Boys. No home is excluded - in houses where there are no daughters, a St. Lucia is "borrowed" from friends or relatives.
Perhaps the hardest part for the parents is pretending to be asleep during all the preparation. Coffee must be brewed, and the Lucia Buns baked. The saffron-flavored pastries are made in traditional shapes such as lilies, crowns and the most popular, Lussekatter (Lucia Cats). When everything is ready, the Lucia Buns are placed on a tray. The coffee is then poured and the procession begins.
There are several legends about the real St. Lucia. One of the most common is that she was born of rich and noble parents, about the year 283 A.D. in Syracuse, Sicily. Her father died when she was very young. When her mother fell ill and her death appeared imminent the teenaged Lucia was desperate. She took her mother on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Agatha, where miraculous healings were rumored to take place. During their visit, her mother was healed and both women embraced Christianity. Together they began their plans to use their wealth to help the sick and poor.
Sicily was under the rule of Emperor Diocletian, and it was a time when Christianity was forbidden in favor of the Pagan gods. Nevertheless, Lucia was true to her faith and distributed food to those who were homeless and starving around her. Many families sought refuge in caves, and Lucia would make her way through the passageways with armfuls of bread and a crown of candles on her head to light the way and leave her hands free to distribute the much-needed food.
Before her father's death, he had arranged her marriage into a Pagan family, a bargain that Lucia had no intention of honoring. Her betrothed was so taken by the beauty of her face, her hair and especially her eyes, that he demanded her hand as his bride. Lucia would not hear of it, so in a rage the young man reported her Christian faith to the authorities.
On December 13th, 304 A.D., Lucia was led before the court of Paschasius, the Governor of Sicily, where she was sentenced to a life of servitude in a brothel for her beliefs. When the guards came to drag her away, she stood there immovable with the strength of God. She reportedly could not be pulled away even by a team of horses. In desperation, Paschasius ordered that she be burned. Bundles of wood were piled up around her and the fire ignited. Again God saved her, and she was not consumed by the flames. Lucia was given a revelation of the downfall of Paschasius and even the Emperor Diocletian, and as she told this to the court, her life was finally taken by the sword of one of the soldiers. She was later venerated as a saint, and the day of her death, December 13th, was named St. Lucia's Day.
The day had no real significance for centuries. As Christianity spread through Europe and into the Scandinavian nations, though, the pagan celebration of Winter Solstice had to be replaced with a Christian celebration. Winter Solstice fell on December 13th, so Saint Lucia was the natural choice.
As the legends go, the celebration was cemented when a terrible famine had fallen on the Province of Varmland in Sweden during the middle ages. The village was starving, and on December 13th of that desperate year a large white ship was seen coming through the night across Lake Vanern with a beautiful young woman standing on the bow. She was wearing a brilliant white gown, and a ring of light encircled her head. The country people boarded the ship only to find that it was heavily loaded with food, clothing and supplies. They quickly unloaded it, and as they carried the last baskets away the people looked back to see that the ship was no longer there. Some believed that it had sailed away, a much-needed supply ship from another province. Many felt in their hearts that it was a gift from St. Lucia, and as the story spread, the celebrations of St. Lucia's day began. Even after the calendar was reformed and Winter Solstice fell on a later day, the thirteenth of December remained the celebration of St. Lucia.
Today in the Scandinavian lands, towns often have a beauty pageant where the winner portrays St. Lucia for a huge, city-wide celebration. Many businesses also have a Lucia who will serve pastries and coffee throughout the office on December 13th. It heralds the start of the Yuletide season, and marks the beginning of the twelve days before Christmas. It is a time to celebrate the family, to honor the miracles that God worked in the life of St. Lucia, and to remember the young maiden who died so long ago. If you ask any of the elders of the small country villages, they will also tell you that just as the moon is rising on the eve of December 13th, if you look carefully enough, you will see a young woman in a shining white dress skating across the snowy countryside, with a glowing ring of light above her head.
In the United States, many descendants of Scandinavian ancestry celebrate St. Lucia's day, and in a culture where Christmas traditions are heartily embraced the day has not gone unnoticed. You will find Lucia festivities sponsored by churches, youth organizations, and even by the merchants in your local mall. As the story of St. Lucia becomes more popular, writers can ride this holiday wave with new articles for their resume. You can pitch articles about the saffron-flavored Lucia pastries to food magazines, and stories describing the Lucia traditions to any magazine with holiday-themed content. Armed with this information, you have a recipe for getting a publishing credit for Christmas this year. Target your periodicals, do your research, and get those Christmas queries in the mail before the warm weather hits!
© 2005 Mitchel Whitington
About the Author
Mitchel Whitington is an author and speaker - visit Mitchel's website at http://www.bookconstructor.com.
NOTE: You are welcome to use this article in your own ezine or on your website, as long as it remains completely intact, complete and unaltered (including the end credits). You must also send a copy of your reprint to the following email.
© 2002-2012, Mitchel Whitington. All rights reserved