By Molly O’Toole
Illustrated by Ravela Smyth
Beep! Beep! I spring out of bed when my alarm sounds, but no alarm was needed to wake me up. I have been waiting for this day my whole life. I keep my pajamas on, because I need to wear clothes that aren’t important for cooking. My stomach is doing that all too familiar flip-flop motion that indicates Today is St. Lucia day. Today, I am Lucia.
Bella and Matthew are already up and dancing around the kitchen. They look up when I come in. “Elizabeth!” they cry, and Bella runs up and hugs my waist. Bella is only five, but she’s super smart. She’s quiet and only speaks when necessary, but mostly because there’s too much going on inside her head. It must sound like a Lowell mill in there. Matthew’s eight and is a lot louder and more outgoing. He’s kind of a class clown.
The stairs creak, followed by loud thumping and groaning. It’s Kathryn. “Shush!” I say. “You’ll wake up the adults!” She gives me her classic touch-me-and-I’ll-kill-you look and grabs the recipe book off the shelf.
“OK, everyone knows the drill. Bella and Matthew gather the ingredients for the Lucia buns, I put them in the oven, and Elizabeth makes the coffee. Am I understood?”
I glare at Matthew, trying to warn him, but he can’t resist. “Sir yes, sir!” he shouts in a stern voice, then puffs out his chest and salutes Kathryn. I roll my eyes. Matthew has to learn that you can’t joke with her at 6:00 a.m. But Kathryn’s response takes me off guard.
“That’s more like it! Everyone, get busy!”
I grab the coffee pot and ground coffee and set some water to boil. Since coffee takes the shortest amount of time, I go to the hall closet and fetch the white robes and hats and wreaths.
My family is Swedish, so we celebrate St. Lucia Day. The oldest girl in the family wears a wreath with seven candles (fake, or real in my case) and a white robe with a red sash. She walks into the kitchen with St. Lucia buns and coffee, singing the St. Lucia song. Some families sing it in English, but we were always taught the Swedish version. The other kids wear white robes, and the really little ones dress up as tomtar, which are little Swedish mischievous elves, and sing other songs. The boys wear hats decorated with stars. They are stjärngossar, or star boys.
Kathryn was always Lucia, and now I’m thirteen and it’s finally my turn. There’s really no way to explain the way I feel. I guess you could say that it’s like waiting in line at the amusement park; waiting for hours and hours. But finally you get to go on the ride, and it’s the most amazing and exhilarating roller coaster that you will ever go on in your whole life. It’s like a breath of fresh air, a rainbow after a thunderstorm, light after darkness. It’s finally my time to be the special one, the one in the light. And I have never been more ready or eager.
I smile as I fold the robes and look out the window. It’s the kind of winter day where the sun shines golden light on the ground, melting the early morning frost and creating a warm kind of air to the chilly sky.
“Elizabeth! The buns are ready!” shouts Kathryn. I snap out of my daydream and head to the kitchen. Awaiting me is a tray of fresh-out-of-the-oven Lucia buns. They smell like saffron, and small little heat waves are slowly rising towards the ceiling. I love Lucia buns so much that it makes my mouth melt just looking at them. But these aren’t for me. I remind myself that I have to be Lucia, which means bringing the buns to other people and pretending that I’m glad just to watch them eat. But even that burden doesn’t take away the honor and glory that I get when I walk into the dining room. My great-grandmother wore that crown, and my grandmother, and my aunt, and my mother, and my sister. But now I’ll wear it, now I’ll get to share my Lucia story, and I’ll get to be part of that club, that knowing. Me.
“Elizabeth, get Matthew and Bella ready, and I’ll finish the coffee. We need to hurry!” Kathryn wipes her forehead and gets out the mugs.
I take Matthew and Bella to the living room and pull the robes over their heads. “Here, Matthew—take your hat. Bella—get on your shirt.” I fly around, tying this and adjusting that, and finally the two young ones are ready, and I can get myself tidied up. Myself. Me. Lucia. I shake a little in a feeble attempt to calm myself down. It just can’t be done. It’s almost time.
I run to the bathroom and change out of my pajamas and put on my white robe. It flutters just to the floor—but not quite touching it. Below the bustline there are some pleats, which go on for a few inches. It’s simple but elegant.
The sash is beautiful. It’s a deep, wondrous color that’s somewhere between scarlet and burgundy. You can’t see this from afar, but it’s embroidered with tiny little flowers—poinsettias. I tie it around my waist and remove the crown wreath from its little box. It sits there while I brush my hair—I’m not really looking at it but I can picture it perfectly. It sits there in its own little glory, sitting on the bathroom cabinet; sitting in my thoughts and tinting them with a St. Lucia evergreen smell. Even though it’s made of artificial pine needles, I can still smell it. Soon it will sit on my head and boast that I’m Lucia, its bright candles illuminating my face and the tiny flames flickering in my eyes.
Setting down my brush, I leave the bathroom to see that Kathryn is all dressed and lighting the candles. “What time is it?” I whisper, since I think that the adults might be down soon.
“Six thirty, that’s when everyone’s supposed to get up!” she mutters back.
The tradition is that the grown-ups sleep in, but our parents always get up early because they’re so excited. It’s like little kids on Christmas.
Kathryn takes a better look at me and says, “You look really nice.”
I smile, “You too.” Kathryn helps me get on my crown and light the candles. And this is actually the first time that I’m feeling nervous about being Lucia. What if the candles fall? What if the wax drips on my hair and forehead? I must be visibly tensing up, because Bella walks over and takes my hand. I smile at her and try to control my breathing. I start to hear doors opening and footsteps descending the stairs. It is hard to breathe. I try to stay steady because there is fire on my head, but I’m not doing very well.
“Calm down. It’s easy,” Kathryn whispers. I just take a few deep breaths and grab the mugs and trays. I can hear Mom and Dad and Gramps and Grams getting in their chairs. Kathryn switches off the lights and nudges me. This is my moment. This is me. I walk slowly into the dining room, my heart racing ninety miles per hour. I hear Kathryn and Bella and Matthew behind me. This is when I’m supposed to start singing, but I don’t. I can’t.
I. Forget. The. Words. My head is racing. What’s the song called? I forget everything. My mind is blank. I see everyone looking at me expectantly. Finally someone must’ve caught on, because I hear Kathryn start to sing Sankta Lucia… And I am so glad because she saved it for me. Being Lucia would’ve been all ruined if it weren’t for her. I go along, ljusklara hägring. I smile brightly as I set the rolls and coffee down on the table. Everyone beams back. I feel special. I should. It’s me. Me being Lucia. And I feel bliss beyond compare. The bright candles mix in with everything—the good smells, the nice people. And as my eyes fill with tears, I feel as if I’m melting away into the bright candle surroundings, and everywhere is light. Light like my heart. Light like me. Me being Lucia.