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December 13: Cultivate light

Natten går tunga fjät rund gård och stuva;
kring jord, som sol förlät,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.


Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

That's the first verse (and its English translation) of one of the traditional songs sung to mark Luciadagen, Lucia Day.

Celebrated today, on December 13th, Lucia is a celebration of light. In the old almanac the night of Lucia Day was the longest of the year, and the modern-day celebration derives some of its traditions from that time. Saint Lucia is seen as the bearer of light, and this holiday is not only the mark of the beginning of the Christmas season, but also the welcoming of light and hope. 

Då i vårt mörka hus,
stiger med tända ljus,


There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,

In putting today's post together, I listened to the classic song a few times. It started to bring tears to my eyes, as it often does. Music moves the soul.

But it went deeper than that.

The reality is that our house - our community, our country - has been dark this year. 

I didn't want to delve into politics or news with this advent calendar, because I wanted it to be a source of light, a source of respite. And yet, it's impossible to see and appreciate the light without acknowledging the darkness. 

In many ways, 2017 was very dark, and in many of those moments, I - like many others - wanted to simply disappear into that darkness. It felt easier to crawl under the covers than confront reality. There was a sense that the flickers of depression and anxiety were always an arm's reach away.

But somehow, we have carried on. We have not succumb to the darkness. We have fought. We have spoken out. We have cared for each other. We have - as is the popular phrase of the year - persisted. We have carried light within us. 

This is a time of year when there is literal darkness, the sun rises late and sets early. But there's the proverbial darkness as well, and I can't help but think of the symbolism of Lucia, wearing candles in her crown, bringing the light to the people much like many courageous women this year (and for many years before) have shed light on what lurks in the shadows of our cultural darkness. We have for so long turned the other way, left the darkness alone, untouched. But shedding light on that darkness has forced us to reckon with difficult truths and realities. This reckoning is hopefully what will drive us forward. 

After all, this season is a reminder that eventually, the light returns. In the environment, light and darkness are in harmony; one follows the other. But in society, we cannot expect the lightness to appear on its own. We are a part of creating it.

Lucia bears the light today, much like we have to bear the responsibility for bringing the light into our homes, our communities, our culture. 

"How can I cultivate light?" is a guiding question that we could all ask ourselves, today, tomorrow and every day after. To bring a little extra light to your family, your friend, a neighbor, a stranger - all of these actions lead up to something larger, and no matter how small they feel in the moment, they are impactful.

I am reminded of the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  
We don't have the power to change the actions of others, to change their words, to change their behavior. But we do have the power to change our own.

We have the power to cultivate the light. We have the power to bring light to the darkness, and to sustain it. How we do so isn't a choice, but a necessity. It is an obligation to ourselves and our fellow human beings.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that today you get the chance to cultivate some light.


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