National Day: Seeing the light
There has been much debate and ambiguity over Saint Lucia's discovery and who the original settlers were. Strangely, try as I may, I can hardly find a book which is a comprehensive authority on the history of Saint Lucia, save maybe for “A History of Saint Lucia” by Jolien Harmsen, Guy Ellis and Robert Devaux. But the thing is, there have always seemed to be a void about the seed from whence we came, even before the roots. And so for centuries, the stories were told in the oral traditions and never properly documented. Depending too from whence it cometh, it would vary.
The story-writers (not to be confused with the storytellers) always seem to come from outside and have always written on the island's charm, beauty and rich history. They also note the wars between the British and the French over “Fair Helen.” Before that, mention is made of the Amerindians as the early settlers and it is also well documented, the arrival of slaves from Africa to our shores. However, where the debate has been strongest and even some of what was written in the past recently corrected, has been the question as to which "European" discovered Saint Lucia?
Originally, that credit was given to Christopher Columbus, who supposedly docked here during his fourth voyage in 1502. In fact, December 13, was originally celebrated here as Columbus Day or Discovery Day. Evidence later suggested otherwise.
Some historians now believe Saint Lucia was actually discovered by Juan de la Cosa, Columbus' navigator, in 1499 while still another version attributes the discovery to the French. According to one local tradition, a group of shipwrecked French sailors ended up in Saint Lucia on December 13, 1502.
Saint Lucia also appears on a Vatican globe dated 1502. But again we know of the conspiracy theories linked to the Vatican and the plundering that took place in the name of Christianity right?
After the debunking of the theory that Saint Lucia was discovered by Columbus, the authorities needed something new to pin December 13 on. The next best thing, still with Vatican connections was Saint Lucy's Day, the patron Saint after which the island was allegedly named.
Saint Lucy's Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia as a major feast dedicated to Lucia of Syracuse as well as in Italy, Norway and Sweden. In both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as “Lucy” as they carry cookies in a procession of singing. It is also marked by a ceremony where a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucia's life when she was sentenced to burn.
Here in Saint Lucia, in the 90's Saint Lucy's day was transformed into the “National Festival of Lights and Renewal” which kicks off the night of December 12. Originally, the celebrations following the festival of lights would feature a J'ouvert street parade the morning of December 13. National Day itself would see a major street fair in the city with traditions such as greasy pig and greasy pole.
Of late, not much is made of the “National Festival of Lights and Renewal" which was supposed to signal our shift from darkness into light ahead of the Season of Good will-Christmas. Instead, the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) which overseas national events related to National Day, now promote the “December Festivals” with the Festival of Lights and the Lantern Festival and competition, two components.
One again the ambiguity and lack of clarity prevails as a dark shadow, ironically over an event and holiday that is supposed to bring about some enlightenment. Can we write out the history for ourselves once and for all and decide and define what December 13 signifies? And one more thing, is it possible to have a National Day and an Independence Day and how do we differentiate the two?
Ah well, maybe some day we will truly see the light. In the meantime Happy Saint Lucy's Day or Happy National Day or whatever it is you may be celebrating that's good on December 13.