National Day. A lack of interest or Conflict of History
We celebrate approximately sixteen holidays in Saint Lucia during any given year. By celebrate, I mean go to the beach, a roundthe-island trip or eat and drink with friends and family. Except for Carnival Monday and Tuesday when most of the island’s population is in the streets of Castries either reveling or observing and the balance is again, either on the beach, at home, or on a trip. Any other holiday, no matter what it signifies, is celebrated the exact same way, with occasional variations. Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, Labour Day, and Independence Day, even the one I find most profound: Emancipation Day.
Next Tuesday, December 13th, is a holiday, National Day. The thing about December 13th though, most people don’t know that it’s National Day. Sometimes, if I try to inform someone else of National Day a common reply would be “I thought that was in February,” and I’d have to find myself replying, “No, that’s Independence Day”. But unlike Independence Day, we don’t really know what National Day is, or why our island is named Saint Lucia. That’s not only due to lack of interest but also conflict of history, which has quite intrigued me. It’s one of Saint Lucia’s little idiosyncrasies that remind me there really is no place like home.
At some point it was believed that this island was found on December 13th by Christopher Columbus. According to some historical accounts, Columbus and his crew caught sightings of Martinique and Dominica, which birthed the assumption of his discovery of Saint Lucia in 1502. However, other documentation revealed that Columbus’ whereabouts during that time was nowhere near Saint Lucia. A map dated 1511 showed evidence of the island as a Spanish territory as Santa Lucia. The French’s verbal records possess a different theory: that French explorers sought refuge on the shores of the island after a shipwreck on Saint Lucy’s Day. According to a French map of 1624, it was cited as Sainte Alousie. Either way, our European discoverers always referred to the island as Saint Lucia in one form or another. The mystery is who the first was. Most of us Saint Lucians still think or are being taught that it was Christopher Columbus. Am I right?
December 13th is the feast day of Roman Catholic Saint Lucy. Folk lore and legends vary in Northern European countries but the traditions are quite similar. Another common side-effect of confused history is that many of us don’t know why we celebrate Festival of Lights and Renewal. Saint Lucy is the patron saint of light and the European celebrations include parades and festivals of light (sound familiar?) and rituals of young girls carrying food to others while wearing wreaths with candles in their hair, depicting the legend of Saint Lucy.
In Saint Lucia however, the tradition was that people would make creative lanterns to hang in the doorway of their homes. This symbolized lighting the way and the welcoming of Christmastide. My mother always made me wait until school holidays began (the Friday before National Day) to put up Christmas decorations. I whined about having to wait. But whether she realized it or not, she was practicing Saint Lucian tradition of decorating and lighting on the eve of National Day. Of course as of recent the tradition has grown into a Creative Lantern Competition and Parade, song and dance, and then to top it all off a firework display while the lights in the city of Castries come on. I suppose the celebration of National Day is slightly different than other holidays and with good reason too!
Are we interested in knowing why we have this holiday or are we just looking to get away to the beach?