Defeating the Night

Early morning, she is awake and chattering. She grabs the Lucia crown that I pointed out last night and puts it on her head.  I point her to a video linked to my facebook page by a Swedish friend, and she watches it, her face mashed up close to the screen to pick out the face of the 14 year old chosen to play Lucia on Swedish National Television. The gresizerirl is beautiful, and she walks with such grace that one would think she always walks around with lit candles in her hair.  Selam’s finger traces her movements on the screen.  She is enchanted. She watches the broadcast throughout breakfast, and is disappointed to have to shut it off.  Selam doesn’t know that the fact that this particular Lucia has brown skin is unusual. She doesn’t seem to notice the vast sea of blond children singing with the one brown girl playing the leading role.

I love that.

She wants to wear her crown to school. I hesitate. “Some kids,” I say, “might think it’s a little weird, you know.”  I was imagining the older children, who sometimes enter the building at the primary door in order to deposit younger siblings.  Some of them are a little snickery at times.  She insists that she doesn’t care.  She really wants to show her teacher. Besides, she points out, quoting a video we’d watched on Lucia Day, “We light candles to defeat the darkness and the night.”

Seriously, how can you not let her wear the wreath with such an earnest rationale?

She swaggers into the building, and bursts into her classroom, beaming.

Two boys start it. They burst into laughter, and point at her. The other children join in. Maybe half the class is participating. Selam turns her head to me and starts to cry; her tears dampen my sweater. The two instigators follow her and stand close to me. I turn my head and glare and they walk away.

It lasts forever.

The teacher is busy talking with another parent about an assignment. I can tell she sees this but can’t disentangle herself.

I get Selam slowed down and we put her coat and her backpack away.  I take the crown and tell her that I’d bring it back after school. Selam is still crying quietly.  “Don’t make me stay,” she says.

“Let’s go into the hall for a while,” I say, but before we can get there the teacher inserts herself, and gets Selam to talk about the crown. After Selam has told her piece–including the part about defeating the darkness and the night—she asks her about why she was crying and Selam tells her.  The teacher tells her that sometimes people just laugh when they are happy, and her candles just made them smile.

Selam believed her.

She leaves the crown there and hopes to use it for show and tell.

I spend the day worrying. I know my daughter. She hates to ruffle feathers, so she will push her feelings back–only to have them explode later.  I spend the day imagining her being sad or mad.  When the phone rings from her school at 2:20 (25 minutes before school lets out) I pounce on it. It was a robo call about a band concert.

When I pick her up, she’s all smiles. She is letting other children try on her crown. We go to the library and then to the JCC. We each have a treat before Girl Scouts.

After the meeting, she puts her crown back on. It is still lit.  (I had tried to remove the batteries to turn it off, but they are stuck.) We drive away, her little head glowing in the back seat.

I had planned on a trip to IKEA for dinner as a sort of cheap imitation of the day, but we are both too tired to make it to the other side of town.  She talks me into Denny’s, and wears her crown inside.

People stop and ask her about it. Many think it is something to do with Hannukah, but she patiently explains over and over again.  Every time, she says, “We light candles to defeat the darkness and the night.”

Bedtime comes quickly and we are reading in her room. She begins to cry. “I really didn’t like it when kids laughed at me,” she says. “I know baby. I’m really sorry they did that.” “Mrs. P says it’s because they were happy but I don’t think all of them were. I think some were happy and others were mean.” “I don’t know, baby.” “I just wish they knew that the candles are important.  We need them to defeat the darkness and the night. You really shouldn’t laugh at that.” “I know, baby.” “And the boys and girls who weren’t Lucia, they all had candles too, just not in their hair. Everybody had candles and it was very dark, and then it wasn’t. Because there were candles. But D and E laughed at that. And it’s not funny.”

I put her to bed, and settle into my chair.  Suddenly, I remembered the crown, abandoned but still glowing in the front hallway.  I retrieved it and set it on her floor.

“I want to hold it again,” she said.

I gave it to her, and she drifted away, holding on to the plastic crown with its five glowing lights. Quietly, I took it from her hands, and set it back in the center of her floor, where she’ll see it again in the morning, and remember about the day when the darkness tried but could not overcome, the day when five tiny candles overpowered night. 282448_10100141175355254_757528270_n

“The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.”

(probably bad translation of traditional song)


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