i thought i would just share some short stories that have the winter solstice as a theme. somehow it has never really occurred to me until now, just how dark these last few weeks in december are and how important and affective the symbolic lighting of the trees and the bringiing in the light of stories and fables about the best in us- the kindness in us, and the giving qualities that almost all of us possess- when we are giving we are far less likely to be dwelling on other emotions.
The Story of Santa Lucia
(There are several versions of the story of Lucia but this is a nice one!)
Lucia was an Italian girl, born in Sicily in the 3rd century A.D. It was a time when the Romans were persecuting Christians, and Lucia’s family was Christian. When her father died, Lucia vowed to remain unmarried and to serve God, but since she didn’t tell anyone about this vow, her widowed mother went ahead and promised her in marriage to a suitor who was not a Christian. Lucia said no thanks, I’d rather be an old maid, and she proceeded to give her dowry away to the poor. The young man’s pride was severely injured, so he reported Lucia to the Roman authorities and she was tried and convicted of being a Christian. The judge decided that a suitable punishment for a woman who wanted to remain chaste was to be sold into slavery – to a brothel. But when the soldiers came to take her away, they were unable to move her! Rather than being awed by this, they proceeded to pour oil over her and set her on fire. The oil burned – Lucia did not! Still unimpressed, the soldiers beat and tortured her and tried to get her to deny her Christian faith, but she refused. So they stuck a sword into her throat and that did kill her. She died a martyr’s death on December 13, 304 A.D. For her faithfulness, she was made a saint.
How did a Sicilian saint become a part of Swedish tradition? Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages, the Swedish province of Varmland was experiencing a terrible famine and people were starving to death. On the longest night of the shortest day of the year – which also happened to be St. Lucia’s Day, December 13th – a light suddenly appeared on Lake Vanern. It was a large white boat filled with food, and at the helm was a beautiful young woman in a white gown wearing a crown of lights. Lucia had come to rescue the Swedes! As soon as the ship was unloaded, it disappeared.
Swedish custom is that on Santa Lucia Day, mother and children get up very early in the morning to make the traditional Lussekatter (rolls made with saffron) and Luciapepparkakor (ginger cookies). The oldest daughter portrays Lucia dressed in a long white robe with a red sash with a crown of lit candles on her head. She carries the tray of food as she leads the procession of mother and the other children who sing the traditional Santa Lucia song as they march to the father’s room.
Traditionally, the winner of the Noble Prize in Literature has the supreme honor of crowning Stockholm’s Santa Lucia. Traditionally, miracles can happen at midnight on the eve of St. Lucia’s Day and animal may talk. Traditionally, the cook buries the lutefisk in beech ashes on St. Lucia’s Day. You don’t have to be Swedish to celebrate Santa Lucia – Lucia wasn’t a Swede! Välkommen! Varsågod!
There is a story about a princess who had a small eye problem that she felt was really bad. Being the king’s daughter, she was rather spoiled and kept crying all the time. When the doctors wanted to apply medicine, she would invariably refuse any medical treatment and kept touching the sore spot on her eye. In this way it became worse and worse, until finally the king proclaimed a large reward for whoever could cure his daughter. After some time, a man arrived who claimed to be a famous physician, but actually was not even a doctor.
He declared that he could definitely cure the princess and was admitted to her chamber. After he had examined her, he exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” “What is it?” the princess inquired. The doctor said, “There is nothing much wrong with your eye, but there is something else that is really serious.” The princess was alarmed and asked, “What on earth is so serious?” He hesitated and said, “It is really bad. I shouldn’t tell you about it.” No matter how much she insisted, he refused to tell her, saying that he could not speak without the king’s permission.
When the king arrived, the doctor was still reluctant to reveal his findings. Finally the king commanded, “Tell us what is wrong. Whatever it is, you have to tell us!” At last the doctor said, “Well, the eye will get better within a few days – that is no problem. The big problem is that the princess will grow a tail, which will become at least nine fathoms long. It may start growing very soon. If she can detect the first moment it appears, I might be able to prevent it from growing.” At this news everyone was deeply concerned. And the princess, what did she do? She stayed in bed, day and night, directing all her attention to detecting when the tail might appear. Thus, after a few days, her eye got well.
This shows how we usually react. We focus on our little problem and it becomes the center around which everything else revolves. So far, we have done this repeatedly, life after life. We think, “My wishes, my interests, my likes and dislikes come first!” As long as we function on this basis, we will remain unchanged. Driven by impulses of desire and rejection, we will travel the roads of samsara without finding a way out. As long as attachment and aversion are our sources of living and drive us onward, we cannot rest.
From Daring Steps toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism, by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche