Why I Celebrate St Lucia Day…. Or a mild discussion of xenophobia.

Maybe I should wait for St. Lucia day (December 13, if you don’t know…) to post this, but I think I’ll post it up now.

I’ve been dismayed lately.  I’m seeing a lot of just depressing stuff on Facebook… my window to the outer world as I recover from surgery.Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.03.51 AM.png

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So… It’s no joke that I take issue with all of this nonsense.  I admit, having lived overseas in South Sudan, I may be a WEE BIT less liberal than some, because  after my time in S. Sudan I realized that North Africa really was actually quite a great place to have people disappear, become completely brainwashed and emerge as very very dangerous people.  So, I’m not just all peace love and hugs to everyone.  That said, of course the majority of refugees are in general going to be people literally seeking a better life, a safe life. The situation in these places is awful, and something most comfortable Americans and Europeans couldn’t really understand.  Even people here win the US living in abject poverty tend to have it a bit better than some Sudanese or Syrians.

There is this prevalence of fear of the unknown, and this discussion of how “these” people don’t want to assimilate… and how awful that is.  (Of course the Amish in PA and OH don’t want to assimilate either, but we think of them as good furniture and pie makers who are quaint and charming?)  I thought the story of St Lucia day to be perfect.

My family is of Scots-Irish-Welsh origin we believe.  (Yep if I did 23 and me, I am 100% sure I’d finally find the W. African genes that gave me and my Mom and her Mom the weird kinky hair we have) but as far as the amateur genealogists have discovered we are pretty UK type persons.

Every year on December 13, as long as I can recall, I and my sister celebrated St. Lucia Day.  My Mom made St. Lucia day buns, and my sister and I would take turns each year waking up our household in a white nightgown with the crown of candles…. My mom even came to my school when I was in second grade and taught the class about the tradition. (with construction paper candles of course!)

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So every year, we eagerly awaited this holiday, especially as it helped to kind of ease some of the building Christmas excitement.  (I don’t know how my mom dealt with all that craziness, because I LOVE Christmas, and even now get really crazy about it).

In college, my Mom who is pretty great by the way, helped us to continue the tradition by sometimes sending up a little gift. I was opening a little gift and explaining my understanding of St. Lucia day to one of my friends another friend kind of looked at me…

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(I do kind of look scots-irish don’t I?)

and said, I didn’t know you were Swedish.  I was like, I’m not, we always celebrate this holiday.  To be honest, I was a little surprised to find out it was more of a Swedish tradition.  I had NO IDEA, I thought you know, that most people celebrated St. Lucia day.   So… I looked it up and talked more to my Mother about it.  How did this very not Nordic family start to celebrate this holiday?

Turns out growing up my Mother’s neighbors were a childless couple from Sweden.  My Mom apparently enjoyed visiting the wife especially, and was gifted with many items, such as…

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And some cooking lessons for making the St. Lucia day buns.  As well as a lesson on what St. Lucia day really was.  So… because of my Mom’s neighbor…we celebrate St. Lucia day.  I still celebrate it in my own way it is a festival of hospitality as well as light, so I choose to attempt to bring light into the world.

What a lovely tradition that my mother learned from her immigrant neighbors, right?  What a nice way for our family to grow.  Charming? right? I think so.  I’m always grateful that my Mom had this great relationship with her neighbors who taught her so much.

My sister is married to a man of Italian heritage.  Her kids celebrate St. Lucia day.  (So hard as she only has boys)…again not really in tradition. They also celebrate all sorts of italian traditions I know very little about!

My Mother’s neighbors apparently got along well in the community back in the 1950’s. Of course they were similar in appearance etc… But they were different and brought all sorts of different traditions with them.

Should they have assimilated and stopped celebrating something that really isn’t a mainstream American celebration?

I really don’t think so.  The woman taught my Mom something that has added to the life of our family is a very positive way.

I think it only adds to our uniqueness as Americans.  We are not homogeneous.  We embrace a lot of traditions and things that may not have been originally ours.  We understand and accept wild differences between people… or at least, I thought we did.

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I really wish that every single person who has posted the junk I reposted here from Facebook would have to meet and spend time with someone that they insist is too foreign for America, or someone who “does not want to assimilate” and get to know just a little bit about their hopes and dreams and ideals and the whys of what they do that seems SO STRANGE to us.  Most parents, refugee and otherwise worry about their children’s success…

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and they do want their kids to fit in.  The trick is for them to fit in without losing a cultural identity entirely.  One way to help is for people to be more interested/accepting of some cultural differences.  Kids hide stuff that will make them a target of ridicule…adults as well.

Maybe this holiday season, we should all try to find a festival we don’t know too much about and take part in some part of it.  Maybe.  We might even just ask our co workers event ones who look like us… to describe how they are getting ready for this time of year, I imagine we’d learn a lot.  If there is someone newly here from somewhere else… it would be a great time to reach out. Invite them to a holiday brunch, not to convert them, but to share time with them. Share of yourself, and allow them to share of themselves.  It’s long overdue. We are missing out on so much by pretending to protect ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Why I Celebrate St Lucia Day…. Or a mild discussion of xenophobia.

  1. This afternoon I was at an elementary school in a low income neighborhood that’s predominantly Latino and Southeast Asian. The staff and I were watching the children in the latchkey care program play on the playground, and I was struck not just by their racial and cultural diversity, but by the way they all played with each other with no regard to their skin color or even the languages they spoke. I got a little choked up at this: these children who have so little at home and whose parents are struggling with so many problems possess such generous, warm souls, while so many adults act like playground bullies. I hope these children keep that generosity and warmth.

    And thank you for writing this. It made my day.

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