A Trick for Santa Lucia

Translated by Hannah Charlton

— Don’t forget your white dress, darling!
— Uh-huh.
— See you tonight in the square.
— Yeah.
Mom runs down the stairs with the bag she’s got ready for me. I pull the front door shut and head off to school. It’s the 13th of December today. That means for us Swedes it’s Santa Lucia Day. Everyone else loves it, but for me it’s the pits. Mom got me to take part in the competition so that I could lead the procession and wear the crown. And somehow I won… Though, to be fair, I’m a walking advert for the Swedish Tourist board. I’ve got the right coloring, blue eyes and long, blond – nearly white – hair. But deep down, I can’t stand the thought of taking part in this circus.
By the time I get to school I’m in a vile mood. I walk past Thelma who gives me a big smile. She can really get on my nerves sometimes... Ever since she got here she’s done all she could to be friends, but I don’t really fancy getting close to a creep like her. She hasn’t got a clue how to dress, looks like she’s come from last century with her mussed-up black hair and her long, gray skirts. No matter what, she sticks to me everywhere I go so I can’t get away from her. She points to my bag and asks:
— Is that your dress for tonight?
— Yeah. So?
— Oh go on, show me.
I open the bag.
— Wow, it’s gorgeous!
— I’m just going to look stupid.
— No way – you’re going to be the most beautiful Santa Lucia.
— Yeah, but I don’t give a toss about walking in a procession and being queen of the show. It’s my mother. She doesn’t get it. She was always Lucia, so for her it’s a big deal that I get to be Lucia too.
— That’s a bit harsh on your mother
— Oh sure! She does everything perfectly. She makes the best yellow buns out of everyone, our house is always amazingly decorated but you know what, for me, none of that stuff is important.
The bell rang, ending our conversation. And during it Karl had turned up, but I couldn’t get a chance to talk to him because of Thelma. Right now we had to get to class.
At break Karl came up to me in the hall. 
— Got a minute, Anna?
— Yes. What is it?
— You were a bit full on with Thelma this morning.
— What are you talking about?
— Well, you go around with your costume, but you act all princess-y and stuck-up saying you don’t want to be in the procession.
— So what? It’s ok to say what I think isn’t it? I don’t want to be the one marching along with a crown of candles on her head.
— Wake up a bit, Anna! Can’t you see that she’s drooling over your Lucia dress and that she’d love to be able to take part in the parade? 
— Yeah, yeah, here comes big Karl, defender of widows and orphans!
— Yeah… totally right. 
Karl left me standing there and walked away. Now he was on my case too. What was up with everyone and me today? That little idiot Thelma was going to steal my friend. I could tell that he was falling for her. Thankfully I met up with Lena my best friend, but I was feeling really rubbish. Today really sucked.
During sports I ran through the conversation I’d had with Karl, asking myself what he’d been trying to say. Yes… maybe I’d come on a bit strong with Thelma in the morning. I don’t know much about her apart from that she started school just a few months ago. I think she comes from a country that’s at war but I don’t know exactly where. And she’s trying really hard to fit in, but there are loads of people taking care of her. And the teachers all adore her!
I sat on my own at lunchtime because Lena had a revision class. I ate my sandwich quickly. As usual Thelma had brought out her stinky picnic. If she really wants to fit in then she should start to eat the same kind of food as us. As usual she came up to me to continue chatting but I wasn’t in the mood.
Then she reached out a Tupperware to me and I couldn’t find a way to say no:
— Do you want a donut?
— Thanks. I’m OK.
— You should try one – they’re amazing. My mother made them.
— Your mother makes you donuts in the morning before you go to school?
— It’s for Hanukkah.
— What on earth is that?
— It’s one of our religious holidays, like Christmas or Santa Lucia is for you.
— So you’re saying you don’t celebrate Christmas.
— No, not really.
— And probably not Santa Lucia either?
— That’s right… though we celebrate with a celebration of light in our own way. See Hanukah is kind of our own festival of light. Every night for eight days we light candles on a Menorah – that’s a candlestick with nine branches – and we sing and eat donuts. It’s often around the same time as Christmas.
— That’s strange.
— My country is very different from yours, you know. To start with, it’s not as cold and the nights are not as long.
— What’s the name of your country?
— Lebanon.
— And over there… are you all…
— Jewish?
— Yes, that’s it.
— Not at all. But in our country all the people of different religions have always mixed together for centuries.
— It’s a bit different here.
— I love it here; it’s so beautiful, even if it’s a bit cold.
— You’ll get used to it, you’ll see.
— Yes, of course. But it’s hard right now.
— Do you know how to ice skate?
— No!
— You’ll learn really fast.
— The Lucia parade is so magical. You’re lucky to be leading the procession.
The next lesson was music. The teacher was all excited. Santa Lucia really does get them all worked up even though it’s just a procession with some candles, yellow buns and songs. Most of all, it’s a chance for us kids to have a bit of fun. My older brother is going for it big time this year, those students will be partying till late to celebrate the longest night of the year. I’m not old enough yet to be allowed out!
The teacher is talking to me:
— So Anna… all ready for the parade this evening?
— Yes, Sir.
— Very good. So we’re going to do something special this lesson. I suggest that we rehearse the traditional songs for the procession.
We moved the tables so we could form the choir. The teacher wanted to make us do some breathing exercises, but we couldn’t take it seriously. And then when for better or worse we began to sing, it was a real mess. After a minute or two the teacher told us that he’d got a little surprise ready for Thelma and he ushered her into the center. 
“So what’s the little airhead up to now?” I asked myself. As if she can sing the Swedish songs better than us...
But after a couple of seconds the little voice in my head was forced to stop. I was completely stunned by Thelma’s voice. The whole class went silent while they watched her, mouths open. After our traditional songs, Thelma began to sing something in Hebrew. It was amazing to hear her using this unfamiliar language. A tear rolled down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away. It was so beautiful.
The bell broke up this emotional moment. For once we all tidied up our things in peace. Thelma had brought us all together.
As we came out of class I caught up with Thelma.
— Hey Thelma, I’ve got an idea.
She looked at me quite surprised. It’s true that I think it’s the first time I’ve ever gone up to her. I’d totally gotten her attention.
— It’s going to be great, you’ll see.
When I talked through my plan with Thelma, her eyes widened with disbelief, she went bright red and then said that I was completely crazy. We both went into the restrooms to change. Right at the last minute I put the crown on her head. The candles lit up her face and she looked wonderful. She looked at herself in the mirror and was trembling with emotion. We came out of the restrooms and I led her to the front of the procession. She hung behind me and I could tell that she was embarrassed.
— Anna, I can’t do this. I’ve no right to be doing this.
— It’s going to be fine. You’ll see, trust me.
— You’re sure?
— I’ll stay with you the whole time, I’ll be right behind you.
When we got to the head of the procession, my mom was there checking her watch and frowning. We were actually a bit late. But I needed to use the surprise effect to its max. 
— What’s going on Anna? You’re not dressed?
— Mom, meet Thelma. She is this year’s Lucia.
— But that’s not possible, darling. It’s you who was chosen.
— Isn’t it possible to have a Lucia who doesn’t have white skin and long blond hair?
— That’s not what I meant.
— Wait till you hear Thelma sing and you’ll change your mind.
Thelma lowered her eyes. The procession set off. Karl and the music teacher both winked at me and smiled. When I looked at my mom, I saw she had tears in her eyes. I didn’t know if it was from anger or happiness. After a moment she came up alongside me and gave me a big hug.
— You’re right, Anna, Thelma is a wonderful Lucia. I’m so proud you gave her your place.

Image of A Trick for Santa Lucia

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