You are the light of the world. [...] Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
I spent the second week of advent filming for the documentary. Though it was "work," it was immensely spiritually fulfilling. Our task was to capture the essence and the food for the festival of Santa Lucia, Sicily's most famous saint and the patron saint of the Syracuse and Belpasso (two cities on the east side of Sicily). Lucia lived in Syracuse in the 3rd century and was martyred for refusing to marry a pagan, instead choosing to give her dowry to the poor. She is revered across the world for shining Christ's light (her name means light, in fact), and being a representation of a devout woman of God.
We first went to Belpasso, a town on the edge of the volcano, Mt. Etna, to film the 3-day festival in her honor. I was humbled by the fervent devotion of the town. Banners proclaiming "Prayer for us, Santa Lucia" or "Long Live Santa Lucia" hung from every window. Each day started early in the morning with church bells, processions, festival markets, and a traveling band--and the local people came out in spades. For two nights, on the 11th and 12th, there were the famous "I Carri di Santa Lucia," which are huge unfolding mobile art pieces created by the community by hand. It's impossible to do them justice through pictures and description. The community splits into four teams and each team works on the "il carro" for 6 months, designing, constructing, painting, etc. As we interviewed the leaders in the magnificent workshops, I was struck by how immensely powerful it is to involve community members (particularly young people) in creative celebration of religious figures or events. Each team puts thousands of hours in the project, creating a completely new display every year, all on the theme of Santa Lucia, but with different interpretations and styles.
The four teams unfurl their creations with great to-do, with thundering music, wonderful scripts narrated by community members, live actors, and huge displays of artfully designed fireworks. Throughout, the crowds of hundreds of people chant "Viva Santa Lucia" and applaud. As I snapped pictures and observed the productions with wonder, I thought how sacred this festival seemed in comparison to our mass holiday gatherings in the United States, which have become secularized and commercial. I listen to the Italian words of the narratives told by each team, translating them as best I can to myself, and marvel at the theological care put into each application of the Santa Lucia story. They speak of her generosity, her care, her patience, and her sacrifice, connecting it to Christ's mission for us, to the identity of the town, to the inclusiveness and generosity we are meant to show as Christians, to modern-day saints, and to the Christmas season.
On this advent week of preparation, what a perfect example this holiday is! The community members freely donate their time and labor in expectation of this celebration, in honor of this young girl who died so many centuries ago, but who lives on as an example of living fully for Christ.