In the comments under my Luciafest post, Staffan notes that some Swedish towns have a boy as Lucia queen now. Another correspondent reports that she knows one of the Swedish women pushing for this, as they frequent the same feminist blog. The reasoning is that since there is nothing necessary to the completion to the task that resides in one sex and not the other, each is on even footing. She adds that the woman is an atheist, which I at first thought only tangentially relevant, but after consideration, believe has some bearing on the issue.
First, whatever towns in Sweden are doing this, it’s their town and they can do what they want. I don’t think anyone officially “owns” a holiday. However in any tradition, I can see how any number of folks might believe they have an interest in it that should be respected.
Nothing necessary to the completion of the task. I think arguments like this gain a foothold and sometimes even win the day because people aren’t prepared for them. They pop up, seem to make a sort of sense, and the misgivings about it don’t have a ready answer. Individuals, and even society is caught off guard. I liken it to the reasoning of adolescents, as in my favorite example of an angry teenager complaining “I don’t tell you what to wear! You shouldn’t tell me what to wear!” It is almost reasonable. It has some reasoning in it. It’s not fully wrong. But it is missing some pieces, such as who is paying, at what pace the relaxation of authority is to take place, and who gets to make that call. We don't tend to have thought through all the issues of "What is tradition for? Who is affected? Where is this all going?"
This is a place where Obama’s “you didn’t build that” really does have a place.* The attempt here is not to ignore a tradition or try to stamp it out or belittle it, but to capture it for one’s own purposes. The tradition has a power and influence, and those who want to change it are seeking to be the new queen bee, sawing off the head of the old queen while riding on her back, using her smell as a disguise so the hive does not revolt.
Whether one thinks they are reformers or usurpers might depend greatly on where one sits, but the notable point is that they don’t want to destroy the hive/holiday, but to own its power. In some ways, that’s what the early Christian missionaries did throughout Europe, trying to redirect pagan customs into a more acceptable riverbed. Martin Luther did not actually start the custom of Christmas trees out of nothing, charming as the story is. Northern Europeans had been yanking evergreens around for winter holidays for centuries before that. Luciadag incorporated the pagan tomten and star boys into the show, and the December 13 date was the Winter Solstice under the old calendar. Reformer or usurper? Lots of Christians over the years have objected to the tactic, wanting a cleaner break with superstition. Co-opting the pagan influence for Christian purposes strikes them as – literally – a deal with the devil. Could be. Are we paying the price for that now, as Santa rules?
My emotional response is that these modern Swedish women are insulting their grandmothers and great-grandmothers - Christian women who built the power of this holiday and tradition and would be appalled. It’s a kind of kidnapping. (And no, I don’t believe that the Swedish Lutheran women of 1800 would be proud of their recent descendants in this. I’m sure it’s fun to tell oneself that, but it’s rubbish.) However, as I noted from the beginning, it’s their town, it’s their country, and they also have some ownership of the tradition. They are only doing what everyone does with traditions – remaking them according to their own values. I don’t have quite the logical ground to stand on that I thought.
When we attempt to build traditions artificially we find we have no materials available but other traditions. Nothing with any power comes ex nihilo. The French renamed the days of the week and the months of the year after the Revolution. It didn’t last. There was no power and romance there. Even using the old elements, we find that we cannot make them do what we wish. Esperanto never got off the ground, neither will Kwanzaa. You can’t kill the birds and expect them to fly for you. If the tradition is allowed to keep its own power, it goes on for a time and the additions/reforms/usurpations have something to feed off. European Christmas drew from Yule and Solstice and got to be a Christian holiday for centuries, though it never fully shook its paganism. Now the religious holiday is nearly gone, because the secular forces did not forbid the tradition but only captured it for its own values – some good, some bad. But whatever power was left over will not be fully obedient to their new masters either.
It pays to ask why one would wish to remake the Lucia tradition at all if one is not Christian. It's not yours. Or is it? If it's just a Swedish festival with Christian roots, then maybe it is theirs. More than mine, anyway.
Well, it’s the attraction of cultural power. This batch of Swedish feminists don’t want to make something new. They want to make the tradition obey, them but still have the power to bring tears to Nana’s eyes.
Yeah, let me know how that works out. In a generation, it will be an Esperanto or a Kwanzaa.
*It had a place in his use of it as well, but rather the opposite of what he wanted. Yes, American businesses didn’t "build that" out of nothing. They built it out of the rules for government and economy of their forefathers, of the networks and traditions of those who had come before. I’m glad to honor them and give them credit. Emphatically not out of the current government and society – those are also beholden descendants. It’s one of the category errors of government-increasers. They believe that everything good done by government two hundred years ago is to their credit now. They tip their hand that they see the split as being between the rulers and the governed, across time and space, with themselves as the true heirs. Very scarey.