|St Lucia's Day - artwork by Michael Hague|
In the countries of the north, where winter darkness held longest, people's yearning for light found focus on the feast day of St Lucia of Sicily - her very name, they thought, meant light.
Early calendars marked December 13th as the winter solstice. Later when the date of the solstice was changed to the 21st and the calendars reformed, the feast of Lucia was retained and continued to mark the beginning of Christmas in Sweden and Norway.
Older folk said on the eve of the day that Lucia herself might be seen, skimming across the snowfields and frozen lakes, a crown of light upon her hair.
In towns, torchlight processions were held to summon back the light. The daughters of each house rose in the early dark - dressed in white, crowned with wreaths of lingonberry or holly and blazing candles - they would take food and fire to their sleeping elders, singing all the while to mark the morning of St Lucia's Day.
Usually in winter I walk a different route to work from the station, meandering around Trinity College instead of taking my normal stroll through the park. I always assumed the park would be closed in winter, so was surprised this year to find the gates open, even though it is still dark.
I've continued walking though the park because 'my' swan family are still together. Usually the cygnets disappear quite early in the season, but this year is different and they appear like ghostly shadows out of the gloom - swimming towards me to say 'hello'! (I love the cheeping noises the young swans still make.) As you can see it is now too dark to photograph them successfully, even with a flash.
Last week I realised something. Five out of the six cygnets that I originally photographed survived. That means there are two adults and five adolescents - or seven swans a'swimming - just like in the Christmas carol!
The park has a beauty all of its own at this time if year. I love the way the branches with their delicate tracery are silhouetted against the early morning light. And it was as cold as it looks - yesterday morning when I took this photograph the lake was starting to freeze over!
For anyone interested in this sort of thing - today is 12/12/12 and there are 12 days to go before Christmas. In my lifetime there won't be another day when all the digits are the same like this again.
St Lucia taken from 'The Enchanted World - The Book of Christmas' - Brendan Lehane / Time Life Books