People don’t always remember when the time comes that National Day is a whole different concept than Independence Day. Many parents probably haven’t realized that the Ministry of Education schedules the school term to end the Friday before National Day every year. And perhaps it never quite stood out to some that most lights on commercial buildings are not turned on until National Day or the day after. More significantly, do we really know where our island got her name?
The origin of the name Saint Lucia is unclear; the first French and Spanish settlers or visitors during the Age of Discovery recorded the island’s name as some translation of Saint Lucia. Some myths claim that Christopher Columbus named the island like its neighbours, but other records show that Columbus was not near Saint Lucia in1502; around the same time he discovered Dominica and Martinique.
As for the French: Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated on December 13, and oral traditions claim that French sailors were shipwrecked on the island on that day, which is probably why it was cited as “Saint Alouzie” on a 1624 French map. Other historical accounts of European explorers have the island recorded as various translations of “Saint Lucia” but either way we’re not sure if Columbus was the first. What we do know is that Saint Lucy of Syracuse is deemed our patron saint along with light and blindness.
But the story of Saint Lucy – which means “light” or “lucid” – is just as mysterious. It is known that in the fourth century Christians were being persecuted for their faith. Legend has it that young Lucy declined a pagan bridegroom in dedication to Christ. The governor of the day was furious and attempted to sully and hurt the maiden through various means, but, protected by her faith, Lucy could not be burnt or defiled by men. Stories also record differences about how Lucy’s eyes were gouged out, but in the end her buriers noticed her eyes were restored after death.
In Saint Lucia we commemorate National Day, but the feast of Saint Lucy (Saint Lucy’s Day), is celebrated with a Festival of Lights and Renewal from Catholic tradition. We generally celebrate our National Day like any other holiday, by going to the beach, sleeping in, having family gatherings or climbing Gros Piton. But it was once customary to place lanterns above the entrance of homes and to welcome Saint Lucy’s Day with a j’ouvert parade. Now the latter only happens on select years in a few communities.
Social groups have developed their own traditions too such as a car racing event held at The Base in Vieux Fort every December 13th. This year, Timeline Events will bring hundreds of people to race or to cheer racers on once again. Public Masquerade performances also happen around this time but the largest activity, which gathers families to celebrate this day is the Festival of Lights and
Renewal held in Castries the night before.
Similar to Independence Day, December 13th is one more reason to wear national colours and madras to commemorate patriotism and national pride. National Day also signifies the beginning of our Christmas season and ambiguous reasons for celebration all signify a time of regeneration and new beginnings in the days to come.
The Star Publishing wishes Saint Lucia a wonderful and celebratory National Day 2017!