December 13th is the feast day of Saint Lucy. Legend has it she was a young Italian woman who secretly took food to persecuted Christians in Rome in the fourth century. Under the cover of night, she would make her way through dark city streets, travelling quietly on foot to help those who were hungry and desperate.
Lucy would have needed a lamp to guide her way through the darkness, but this left her with a problem. If she used her hands to hold a torch, they would be too full to carry all the food. Her solution? Candles on her head.
Yes, that’s right. It is said that Lucy wrapped a wreath of vines around her head and nestled lit candles into it. That way, she could see her way in the dark and still have her hands free to carry a load of food for the hungry. Brilliant.
In some Scandinavian countries, Saint Lucy will be remembered with feasting and pageantry this week. Children will dress up in long white robes with red sashes and crowns of lingonberry with (battery-operated) candles on their heads. Some will sing; some will serve sweet buns and coffee. (See pictures and more info here).
This year, I’m trying to learn a little from Lucy. Of course wearing a long white robe is impractical for the busy season of Advent (especially if you are the parent of young children or take public transit). And balancing real, lit candles on your head sounds like a fast track to the emergency room (and the hair salon). So I have another idea.
Lucy found that there were too many things to carry and not enough hands. Most of us know exactly what that’s like, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Our arms are desperately holding on to far too many things: unrealistic expectations, shopping lists, too many responsibilities at home and at work. We juggle them the best we can, shifting them around from time to time to make darn sure we don’t drop any. But it’s exhausting and not terribly fruitful.
So how about we borrow a little of Lucy’s wisdom and creativity this season? We could use our head to figure out what we don’t need to carry and free up our hands for what matters most.
This season, get your hands off all the things other people should be doing for themselves and let them be responsible instead of you. Put voices of guilt and worry in the backseat instead of the driver’s seat. Ditch the myth of the perfect gift and find simpler ways to express your love and care. Get creative about celebrating Christmas so that you are more compassionate and less exhausted.
This Wednesday, I’m going to think a little about Saint Lucy. I might even light a few candles in her honour. We all could learn a thing or two from her about living a generous life. After all, we all mean to be generous. Sometimes we just need to shuffle things around and put candles on our head to make it really happen.