Na­tional Day: See­ing the light

The Star (St. Lucia) - - NATIONAL DAY - By Toni Ni­cholas

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.

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