Lucia Day

December 13

You know you’ve been in Sweden too long when seeing a young woman with lit candles stuck to her head no longer disturbs you. — You Know You’ve Been In Sweden Too Long When…

In Sweden and in Swedish communities in North America, thousands of girls will don the traditional white dress and red sash to take part in Lucia Day. Atop the heads of many girls will burn candles in a special crown worn for the holiday–although in Sweden most candles used these days are the battery-powered kind, due to–as the Swedes have discovered–the highly flammable nature of girls’ hair.

The crown of candles shines a light of hope during the darkest nights of the year, which in Sweden can be about 23 hours long.

(c) 2007 Fredrik Magnusson

Saint Lucia was a young Christian who lived in Syracuse, Italy during the time of Diocletian–the infamous persecutor of early Christians–in the late 3rd century. When her mother became ill, Lucia prayed for her. Upon her mother’s recovery Lucia took a vow of chastity and gave her dowry to the poor, thus earning the rancor of a particularly vindictive suitor.

Some stories say the angry suitor outed her as a Christian in court, which then ordered her execution. Other stories say the suitor tried to kill her himself. Either way, they tried to kill her by fire, but she would not burn. Her eyes were poked out (some say she poked out her own eyes and gave them to the suitor) but new eyes grew back in their place. Men and oxen tried to drag her from the town, but she could not be budged.

Finally, on December 13, 304 A.D., the angry suitor stabbed Lucia with a sword in the neck and killed her. She was 20 years old.

Another legend tells of St. Lucia helping the ancient Christians in the catacombs, where torches were needed to navigate the dark tunnels. To keep her hands free to bring more food and drink, Lucia attached candles to a wreath she wore on her head.

Saint Lucy (Those ain't flowers)

So how did this Catholic saint from Italy become the heroine of a Protestant country in Scandinavia?

It may have to do with the date. Back when Sweden was Catholic and used the Julian calendar, Lucia’s feast day, December 13, was the longest night of the year. In pagan times the winter solstice was considered an ominous night to be out, when trolls and supernatural spirits wandered the earth. Lucia, whose name means light, became a symbol of the victory of light over darkness. Today, Swedish towns hold pageants to pick the “Lucia Bride”. Rituals similar to Luciatagen have taken place in Sweden in one form or another for over a thousand years, but it wasn’t until the 1927 Lucia procession in Stockholm, organized by a local newspaper, that the tradition as we know it spread throughout Sweden and Swedish-speaking Finland.

Lussekatter, or saffron buns, are a staple of the holiday. Made with one of the world’s most expensive spices, saffron dough is filled with cinnamon, sugar, raisins and chopped nuts. The oldest (or youngest) girl in the family serves these goodies.

A more recent Lucia Day tradition is to wake up unsuspecting Nobel Prize winners sleeping at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. The Nobel Prize is awarded three days earlier on December 10.

Story of Saint Lucy of Syracuse

“You Know You’ve Been in the U.S. When…” and “You Know You’ve Been in Sweden Too Long When…”

Linnea in Lund

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

December 12

“…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

— Carlos Fuentes

It’s been said that Mexico came into being not in 1821–the year Spain recognized its independence–but nearly 300 years earlier, in 1531, when a recently widowed peasant-farmer named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, beheld the most spectacular vision in Mexican history.


On December 9, he was out walking near the ruins of Tepeyac Hill, where Aztecs once worshipped the mother goddess Tonatzin, when a young incarnation of the Virgin Mary appeared before him encompassed in a halo of light. She spoke to Juan Diego in his native tongue of Nahuatl, and asked him to deliver a message to the Mexican bishop: to build a church on the ground where she stood.

Upon hearing Juan Diego’s story, the bishop had his doubts. So the next time Juan Diego saw the Virgin, he confessed to her his failure to convince the bishop. She told him to pick some flowers at the top of the hill–even though it was December and no flowers should have been blooming. There he found Castilian roses, native to the bishop’s hometown in Spain. The Virgin arranged them in his tilma (apron), but when Juan Diego opened his tilma to the bishop, it held not flowers but the lifelike image of the Virgin of Guadalupe upon it.

Word spread of the miraculous vision and the image on the cloth. What the event suggested to the descendants of the Aztecs, many of whom had been made to feel unworthy by the strange pushers of this new faith due to the color of their skin, was that the Virgin revealed herself not to a Spanish bishop, but to a common, dark-skinned peasant. And Guadalupe herself was not the pale icon that had been forced upon the people by Europeans, but a mestizo, a mixture of races that would come to represent Mexico.

Old Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico City

During the Mexican War of Independence in the 1810’s, the Lady of Guadalupe became the symbol of the new-born nation and the country’s patron saint.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego as well. His feast day is December 9, the anniversary of the day he first saw Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12, the last day she appeared to him.

Today Mexico is still overwhelmingly Catholic, but as Gustavo Arellano points out:

You don’t have to be Mexican or even Catholic to celebrate Guadalupe. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in God. All you need is a belief in the equality of people that’s in the core of Guadalupe’s message and you will surely feel her redeeming love.

On December 12, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans gather in churches and communities throughout North America and celebrate the symbol of the people of Mexico and patron saint of the Americas.

Human Rights Day

December 10

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion…”

— from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 10 is Human Rights Day…

The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the first global enunciation of human rights.

Voice of America – Human Rights Day 2009 – Discrimination

The Declaration, signed in Paris, France, goes beyond “life, liberty, and security of person” (Article III) to demand 30 specific rights, many of which even the most developed nations still struggle to provide six decades later…

“Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”  — Article XXVI

Each year on Human Rights Day, groups organize demonstrations around the globe to bring attention to issues and areas where the rights are in question. Also on or around this day, the United Nations awards individuals its UN Human Rights Prizes.

Declaration of the Rights of Man, French forerunner of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

International Human Rights Day Marks Progress & Setbacks – Voice of America

Anna’s Day

December 9

Today is Anna’s Day in Sweden, during which Scandinavians honor all those born with that name, which is about a third of the population.

What’s the reason behind or the purpose of Anna’s Day, we have no idea, but right now in Scandinavia it’s dark 20 hours a day, so who would blame them for throwing in as many December holidays as possible?

Today’s the day Scandinavians begin preparing the Swedish delicacy lutefisk, to be consumed on Christmas Eve.

Any fish that take 15 days to make better be darn-tootin’ good.

Lutefisk however is the exact opposite.

According to Swedishologist Rich Tosches, lutefisk means, literally, “cod soaked in plutonium.”

More on How (but not why) Lutefisk became a delicacy – by Rich Tosches

But, as writer Dave Fox points out, the Scandinavian tradition of soaking fish in lye–that’s right, toilet cleaner–developed not because…

they thought it was tasty. A long time ago, in the pre-refrigeration epoch, salting and drying fish was an efficient way to preserve it…A century ago, lutefisk really was a staple in the Norwegian diet. Also a century ago, a lot of Norwegians fled the country.”

— Make Love, Not Lutefisk – by Dave Fox

If you have any more info on Anna’s Day please let us know.

In the meantime, here’s today’s poem for the Anna’s of the world:

Anna, Anna
Banana Fana Fo Fana
Me, My, Mo Mana

Immaculate Conception

December 8

Today, December 8, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

I know what you expectant mothers are thinking. The Immaculate Conception is December 8. Jesus was born on December 25. A 17-day pregnancy? How do I get in on that!?!

Well, you can’t. Contrary to popular belief, in the Roman Catholic Church the Immaculate Conception refers not to the conception of Jesus, but to that of Mother Mary.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls exactly nine months before the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on September 8th. The Annunciation meanwhile is observed on March 25, nine months before Christmas.

So immaculate or not, gestation takes 9 months.

The Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated at least since the seventh century. But it wasn’t until 1854 that Pope Pius IX officially defined Immaculate Conception:

“The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

This doesn’t mean that Mary’s was a virgin birth, like Jesus’. The word Immaculate comes from the Latin in (not) and maculatus (stained). Mary’s conception, according to Roman Catholic dogma, was a normal one, but she was blessed by God and sanctified from the very moment of her own conception.

Although it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church cites Mary’s description—being “full of grace”—as evidence for her Immaculate Conception, a blessed state that shielded Jesus from exposure to Original Sin. Protestants disagree on this, and in fact, Mary’s conception has been a major point of contention between the two.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated throughout the Catholic world. In Spain, Portugal, and parts of Latin America December 8 is celebrated as Mother’s Day. In Panama today, Mother’s Day is one of the most important holidays of the year. Writes one mother:

“I just came back from mother’s day celebration in Bocatorito a little village close to us…For the first time in my life I felt the core essence of what this day is all about. A day when you feel loved and special, but not with expensive gifts and going for dinner in fancy restaurants. Here, surrounded by humble people I understood and felt the joy of being celebrated as a mother.”

Students Day – Iran

December 7 (Azar 16)


December 7 – A date that lives in infamy.

You may know that today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that killed over 2400 Americans in 1941 and brought the United States into World War II.

But December 7 is also a memorial in other parts of the world.

In Iran, December 7 is Students Day. It marks the day in 1953 that three students were killed by Iranian police while protesting the arrival of U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.

Four months earlier a U.S.-backed coup overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had nationalized Iran’s oil industry, much to the dismay of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now British Petroleum). The coup is believed to have been led by the CIA and MI6, and it gave power to General Zahedi and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, aka the Shah, who would rule Iran until 1979.

In December of 1953…

“Iran and the United Kingdom agreed to resume diplomatic relations. The British prevailed on the Americans and the Americans on the shah and Zahedi to move forward on the resumption. The announcement made on 5 December caused a protest at Tehran University…prompting martial law forces to intervene. Ordered to contain the demonstrators, the soldiers fired on the crowd on 7 December (16 Azar), leaving three students dead and several wounded.”

The Shah was deposed in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Each year students remember those killed and wounded in the student protests of 1953.

What goes around comes around… In 2009, students in Tehran gathered on Students Day to protest the leadership under President Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah. (Iran Student Protests Bring Out Tens of Thousands)

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Today is also a holiday in Côte d’Ivoire. December 7 marks the anniversary of the death of Côte d’Ivoire’s first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993. Houphouët-Boigny was president of the small West African nation from 1960 until his death in December 1993. Houphouët-Boigny was instrumental in the fight for independence from France in the late 1950’s.

Saint Barbara’s Day

December 4

Kids, if you thought your folks are hard on you, be glad you didn’t have Saint Barbara’s dad.

Barbara’s claim to fame was being kept in isolation in a tower by her father Dioscorus, a prominent pagan in Asia Minor, around 300 AD.

Saint Barbara

Dioscorus grew upset at his daughter’s refusal of several marriage proposals by eligible suitor-princes. Before leaving on a business trip, Dioscorus ordered his workers to construct a bathhouse for Barbara. The bathhouse had two windows. But in her father’s absence, Barbara asked the workmen to put in a third window. When Dioscorus returned he was infuriated by the deviation from his plan. Barbara confessed she did it in honor of the Holy Trinity, and that she was a Christian, having been secretly tutored by a priest.

As any concerned father would do, Dioscorus took her to the Roman prefect, Marcian, who ordered Barbara to be tortured until she renounced her faith. Young Barbara withstood heinous tortures, but did not renounce Christ. When Marcian ordered her execution, Dioscorus offered to do it himself. Barbara was beheaded by her own father around 303 AD. Dioscorus was then struck by a bolt of lightning and died.

Because of the method of her father’s demise, Barbara became the patron saint of those threatened by thunderstorms and fire. And later became the patron saint of miners and artillerymen.

Rome had the last laugh on Barbara though. In 1969, after over a thousand years, the Catholic Church officially removed her Feast Day–like Saint Brigid–for lack of any evidence that she ever existed.

Barbara’s legend is still strong in Germany and northern Europe, where Barbara is celebrated on December 4, the assumed date of her martyrdom. It’s customary to place a twig from a cherry branch (Barbarazweig) in water on this day, to bloom by Christmas. While imprisoned Barbara had found a cherry branch in her cell and moistened it with her drinking water. Before her death, it bloomed, and brought her joy.


The U.S. Field Artillery has two military orders in her name, the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.

St. Barbara’s Day in Germany

National Day – United Arab Emirates

December 2


You’ve heard all about the city on its way to becoming the 8th wonder of the modern world, Dubai, but what do you know about the country in which it lies: the United Arab Emirates, or UAE?

According to the World Factbook, the UAE is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, with the 12th highest GDP per capita. The UAE has come a long way from the collection of sheikdoms striving to recover from the collapse of the pearl diving industry. Today, this tiny stretch of land between the Arabian desert and the Persian Gulf is the 4th largest oil exporter in the world, and has more oil reserves than Russia, China, and the United States combined. [And at this rate will have more Starbucks too! (-: ]

UAE (brown) & Arabian peninsula
UAE (brown) & Arabian peninsula

The UAE’s robust economy stems partly from its leaders decision to reinvest oil and gas revenues in the country’s infrastructure, to diversify the economy, and to attract foreign capital and workers.

Dubai boasts the tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai. At over 800 meters, it’s nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building.

Burj Dubai ©2009 Imre Solt
Burj Dubai ©2009 Imre Solt

But the capital of the UAE is not Dubai. It’s Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the UAE’s seven sheikdoms, comprising 80% of the country’s land. Combined with Dubai, the two sheikdoms make up the vast majority of the country’s population.

Abu Dhabi holds the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, named after the country’s first President. The mosque can accommodate 40,000 worshippers, and is one of the largest mosques in the world.

The UAE has eight public holidays, of which six are Muslim holidays. The other two are New Year’s Day (January 1) and today, December 2. ( National Day marks the anniversary of the union of the seven sheikdoms to form the UAE after British withdrawal in 1971.

UAE has the world’s highest net migration rate. Only about a fifth of the country’s residents are citizens. Most of the remainder are expatriates from all over the globe.

Though the UAE is one of the Middle East’s great economic success stories, there has been concern during the financial downturn. Recently, the corporation Dubai World — the company famous for its unprecedented housing projects — made headlines for defaulting on half its $60 billion debt. Ironically, for the average UAE resident, there’s no such thing as bankruptcy. If you can’t pay your debt, you go to jail. (The Dark Side of Dubai – Johann Hari, The Independent) Though the UAE government refused to cover Dubai World’s losses, Asian banks have stepped in with a pledge of support. Evidently Dubai World has learned from its Western counterparts. Lose millions = jail. Lose billions = bailout.

Palm Island Resort seen from space
Palm Island Resort seen from space