Santa Lucia – Tradition Has a Price Tag

Imagine being woken up by your first-born daughter serving you coffee and sweet rolls in bed, dressed in white with a red sash around her waist, adorned with a wreath of lighted candles on her head?

Could you be so blessed?!

This is the tradition of Santa Lucia Day, celebrated yearly on December 13th. It is generally associated with Sweden and Norway, but celebrated in many other countries as well. We celebrated Santa Lucia and her life this past Sunday — the first time I have ever been a part of a Santa Lucia ceremony.

Stories differ depending on the source but most begin in Sicily where Lucia’s mother, a wealthy woman, had been miraculously cured of an illness after which Lucia persuaded her mother to give her wealth to the poor. Together the two of them would distribute food and supplies to poor Christians. This was during the time where Christians were suffering at the hands of the Roman Emperor Diocletian so their work was carried out at night in secrecy. In order to carry as much food and as many supplies as possible, Lucia wore a crown of candles on her head. Tradition also tells us that she suffered a terrible death at the hands of the Roman authorities, a death suffered because of her faith.

Modern day celebrations vary according to country, but within homes it is celebrated as I described above: the eldest daughter, dressed in white with a red sash, the wreath of candles on her head, bringing coffee and Santa Lucia rolls.

Like many traditions, the celebration was originally to remember, to commemorate an amazing woman who defied cultural expectations, staying true to a faith she believed with her whole being even as she was suffering a brutal death.

As the story fades through the years what is left is a girl with a white gown, red sash, wreath of candles, and sweet rolls. 

It is easy to want the part of the story that we can sweetly imagine — a girl in white, going through the streets helping the poor. But the brutal death is a critical part of the story, a part of the story that makes us shudder and shake our heads.

They go together – the girl in white with the red sash and the brutal death. Tradition has a price tag.

In the same way it’s easy to keep the part of the Christmas story that gives us the baby — babies are soft and sweet, they smell so good. Babies fit into the crook of our arms and we are amazed. Babies rarely make us shudder. But Jesus, the Man? The one with the cross? He requires too much. The man asks that we have his mind, are conformed to his death — Jesus the Man turns our world upside down and inside out.

They go together – the baby in the manger and the Man on the Cross. Tradition has a price tag.

On this Santa Lucia day I want to remember that tradition has a price tag.

Hope through Jewelry

“Very disturbing and certainly deeply effects the “beauty” of the city as just experienced.  You can know about something but not really know.  It is very convicting.  The wounds …… the pain……. so much work of healing to be done” these were the words of my sister-in-law, Carol Brown, after viewing this special last night on PBS

She sent the link to me immediately after my initial publishing of this post and it is powerful.  She and my brother Dan have just returned from speaking at a conference in Istanbul.

Istanbul, with a sky-line that makes one think they have died and gone to Heaven and a grand bazaar where legends are made, is currently home to my daughter Stefanie.  Taking a gap year, she first traveled to Milan, Italy for 3 months, moved on to Sicily for a month and arrived in Istanbul a week after her 19th birthday.

Stef is loving döner kebap, bargaining, and exploring this amazing city. She has also learned more about a troubling issue: that of human trafficking.  Working with a group that assists women who have escaped from forced prostitution and gendercide, she inspects jewelry they have made, ensuring it meets quality control standards in order to be sold abroad.  Through the art of jewelry-making women develop relationships, skills, and the comfort of community and safety as they gather around a table.  As they craft beautiful and unique pieces the slow healing process takes place and my hope would be that they are reminded that they aren’t cheap costume jewelry to be used and thrown away, but rather the real deal – gold and diamonds.

My daughter’s unexpected involvement in this work has convicted me that this is an area that I know far too little about. As a woman, who believes  deeply in the value of people made in the image of God, I need to know more. Stef’s work has challenged me to learn more to be able to do more.

*The Victims • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries) • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls

But it’s the rare person burdened by statistics alone.  It is usually the compelling narratives that bring us along and force us from a place of complacency to a place of action – and action can mean anything from buying a piece of jewelry to support women, to getting heavily involved through organizations who are working specifically in the area of human trafficking. A fellow blogger and third culture kid wrote a post in December that I am linking here. It is just one of the 1.2 million and counting stories but at least it is one. Called “My First Hooker” (don’t be put off by the title!) it tells the story of the bloggers trip to Mali and meeting with a Dutch mission worker who weekly visits a brothel to counsel prostitutes. Take a look and watch the accompanying video.

I am thankful that my awareness of human trafficking as more than an NPR news story came in an unexpected way –  through the eyes of a 19 year-old and her gap-year.

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