A Boy Named Lucia

 

15420922_10154208922519072_7420073817290444484_nEvery year around this time, Sweden celebrates the feast of Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr who according to legend brought aid to persecuted Christians in the dead of night, her head adorned by a candle-lit wreath. This is commemorated yearly by a reenactment, usually performed by children, carrying candles and singing Christian songs.

Most major Swedish companies do their best to capitalize on this cutesy tradition, but this year Åhlens, one of the largest department store-chains in the country, decided to go above and beyond the traditional and the ordinary. On the cover of the Christmas edition of their company magazine as well as their website, they chose to use a young black boy as the Lucia-model, dressed in the traditional gown and wreath, and the internet lost its collective mind. The comments ranged from “this is genocide on white people” and “A disgusting affront on Nordic tradition” to the more blunt “You make me puke.” Just a few days after the picture was published it had to be taken down after the boy’s mother asked the company to protect the boy from what ended up being a racist hate-storm.

The brunt of the criticism toward the company was focused on two factors: that there was a boy in a traditionally female role and that the boy was black, whereas the Swedish Lucia-procession traditionally features blond and blue-eyed children.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page, which is a highly homogeneous place, made up of 90 percent conservatives and 10 percent libertarians, and the comments I got made me question the direction the conservative movement is taking. My Facebook friends were upset, or rather offended, that this Christian tradition had been hijacked by “gender-bending leftists,” and the language they used in the debate that followed reminded me of the worst of the others on the other side.

A large chunk were feeling “victimized,” others said that poking fun at Christian traditions should be penalized, and some were saying that this meant that Europe was giving in to cultural relativism.

Let’s walk this back and look at the actual issue.

A young black boy in a dress, representing an old Swedish tradition. From a religious standpoint this is not offensive, as the specific tradition of the procession is modern and doesn’t have Christian roots, therefore the company’s interpretation is a version of a version and not an affront on the origin story. From a political standpoint this is excellent, because what we want is for immigrants to embrace our traditions and participate, and the boy is a representation of that. It is the opposite of putting a blond woman in a hijab, and that should be applauded rather than objected. As for the dress. Well, it’s a five-year-old in a dress, not a statement on transgender issues. Let’s relax about 300 percent.

And finally: This is a private company, not the state, and as conservatives we need to not be calling for intervention in private enterprises, but accept their right the offend whatever sensibilities we have.

This debate is not the first recent example of conservatives adopting the left’s language of victimhood and triggers. Leading up to, during, and after this election we have seen movement on our side toward the progressive paradigm of “if it’s not my thing, it needs to be outlawed” and this goes against the conservative grain and is an insult to our entire movement.

Will a boy in a dress really overthrow our civilization? Is that really our fight? Here I thought we were wise enough to let them occupy streets and have vigils over democratic elections while we actually run things, but lately it seems we are stooping to their level and being beaten by experience.

It’s a boy in a dress, now let’s all relax. The left works in micro, we work in macro, and this obsession with detail and “issues” is a dangerous step toward an anti-ideological society where no one has beliefs but everyone has opinions, and it is up to us to stem that tide.

Published in Culture
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 82 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    I’m with you, Annika. The photo is adorable.  St. Lucia can be, like Santa, universal-izable. Like Santa (who can be tall and thin, or short and fat, black or white) she is a kindly spirit of Christmas-ness. This is a nice, positive, good thing, and I’m sorry people were mean (in both senses of the word) about it.

    • #1
  2. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    I figured if I dropped enough Ricochet hints you would post something here!

    It’s a shame that there was a racist response to this, that’s awful both in general and especially for the kid involved and his family.  That will leave real scars on the poor guy.

    I do, however, question the marketing thinking of Åhrens putting a boy in what is typically a girl’s role, and do understand some of the pushback there.  Should it rise to any level of outrage though?  No, that is silly and the better response should have just been to ignore it like one would ignore campaigns (I’ve dealt with enough marketing people that I can picture how the meeting went, and it was probably down to just 1 or 2 people who thought they were being clever and hip, and the rest of the people just wanted the meeting to end and would have agreed to anything to get out).  Here in the states I suspect you’d get heartland anger at it, while the coastal folks would instead celebrate it.

    As a complete side note: my grandmother was Swedish (granted from the Swedes living in Jacobstad, in Finland, but still…) and swore she never saw anyone doing the St. Lucia thing, claims to have never even heard of it till she was older.  But then, her family was Swedish Baptist and they had a dim view of music, dancing, or anything stronger than black coffee and lutefisk.

    • #2
  3. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    If the races were reversed no one would defend Åhrens.

    • #3
  4. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Wait a second. Protestant Sweden celebrates a Catholic saint? I’m calling shenanigans, and claiming cultural appropriation. Now with that out of the way a few insights.

    First off don’t call it a dress. Just call it a robe (garment) and everything is fine on that front. Second, it is a religious icon, St. Lucia, that is. Since Christianity is a universal faith all people and certainly all Christians should feel comfortable depicting and honoring its icons. Do only Greeks get to celebrate St. Nicholas? Do only Africans get to honor St. Agustin? It is madness.

     

    • #4
  5. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I think that conservatives are very sensitive to overt departures from traditional gender roles, for very good reason.

    Using a black boy to represent a white woman seems bizarre to me.  What’s next?  Jon Stewart as the Virgin Mary?

    When dealing with a historic figure, it makes sense to use a model who generally matches the historic reality.  A black or Asian woman as George Washington would be bizarre, just as a a white man as Sojourner Truth would be bizarre.

    It’s a shame if the comments became offensive, but this does sound like a Left-wing company being deliberately provocative by selecting a wholly inappropriate model to represent a historic and cultural figure.

    Remember that we’re living in a time when Monty Python skits are coming true, and people are apparently serious when they ask: “Who are we to say whether Bruce Jenner is a man or a woman?”

    It is an attack on objective reality, and it has an insidious purpose.

    • #5
  6. nandapanjandrum Member
    nandapanjandrum
    @

    Lucian, just sayin’…Let’s blur gender complementarity a little more – and wonder why beta-males are in the ascendancy.

    • #6
  7. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein:From a political standpoint this is excellent, because what we want is for immigrants to embrace our traditions and participate, and the boy is a representation of that. It is the opposite of putting a blond woman in a hijab, and that should be applauded rather than objected. As for the dress. Well, it’s a five-year-old in a dress, not a statement on transgender issues. Let’s relax about 300 percent.

    Agreed. Here is a nice example from my city.

     

    • #7
  8. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Let’s back this bus up.

    I don’t think that there is a right or wrong about these emotional reactions.  Why are we surprised when a traditional rite like this is redefined for no good reason?  (As is we didn’t know there are some darker-skinned children in the world?)  Many people derive great comfort from their predictable and beautiful traditions.  Traditions are worth preserving.

    No matter what your ideology, or personal preference for degree of correctness, or whatever message you’d like to convey, can’t you find a vehicle that doesn’t offend tradition, most especially a religious tradition?  This should be a wake-up call to those who don’t understand the backlash.  It’s of a piece with our desire for all obnoxious cultural messengers to leave us alone.

    So, sure, people who reacted with hateful or virulent statements might have paused a moment before lashing out, but they didn’t start it!  They don’t owe anybody an apology; it’s quite the reverse.

    Merry Christmas.

    • #8
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Judging only from the picture, I’d assume that’s a sex-neutral costume: a robe and candled crown. But perhaps it was labeled as a dress in the catalog.

    Yes, we should hope that people of all sorts can share such traditions. Yes, racism is wrong regardless of circumstances.

    But it’s unrealistic to consider this event in isolation. Obviously, people responded with anger because they have become accustomed to social engineering. We shouldn’t be so quick to anger that we dismiss charitable interpretations (In Christianity, charity is a gift of spirit which prioritizes others before ourselves). But for the same reason we shouldn’t be quick to condemn those who succumb to justifiable suspicions.

    In any case, we shouldn’t let the endless cultural onslaught against common sense, traditions, history, and national pride coarsen us. Anger properly motivates us toward justice, but rage is just selfish abandon.

    • #9
  10. La Tapada Member
    La Tapada
    @LaTapada

    I’m curious to know who objected. Was it Americans or Swedes, or both? (According to my young adult children, everything in Scandinavia is perfect peace and happiness.)

    And certainly we can’t object to a different skin color. After all, we white people depict the Holy Family as white as we are.

    • #10
  11. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Arizona Patriot: When dealing with a historic figure, it makes sense to use a model who generally matches the historic reality. A black or Asian woman as George Washington would be bizarre, just as a a white man as Sojourner Truth would be bizarre.

    She’s a legendary figure. And…it’s a child. In a costume. I’m okay with a little Asian girl dressing up as George Washington, even, but I’m definitely okay with her dressing up as Joan of Arc. Or Pocahontas. Or the Virgin Mary in a Christmas Pageant. I once played one of the three kings. I’m neither male nor middle-eastern. Was that bizarre? Or just…a second grader in a school pageant?

    • #11
  12. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Arizona Patriot:I think that conservatives are very sensitive to overt departures from traditional gender roles, for very good reason.

    Using a black boy to represent a white woman seems bizarre to me. What’s next? Jon Stewart as the Virgin Mary?

    When dealing with a historic figure, it makes sense to use a model who generally matches the historic reality. A black or Asian woman as George Washington would be bizarre, just as a a white man as Sojourner Truth would be bizarre.

    It’s a shame if the comments became offensive, but this does sound like a Left-wing company being deliberately provocative by selecting a wholly inappropriate model to represent a historic and cultural figure.

    And then wait for the inevitable backlash in the comment section to highlight racism and old-think

    Let’s play games with traditions and rile up people for attention! Then we get publicity! Then we can lament how backward some people are! Secondary publicity! And sympathy! This game is being played out everywhere. 

     

    • #12
  13. Johnnie Alum 13 Inactive
    Johnnie Alum 13
    @JohnnieAlum13

    Santa Lucia celebrations are quite secular.  The actual celebration on December 13 has very little to do with the third century martyr.  It’s traditionally celebrated in Sweden because her feastday became focused on the celebration of light (because of the long winter nights).

    I have swedish heritage, 7 of my 8 great-grandparents were born in Sweden, I am a little familiar with the celebration of Santa Lucia. My family has celebrated Santa Lucia day.  The celebration consists of having the oldest daughter wear a crown of candles that are lit, she then goes around the house waking up the rest of the family members while carrying a tray of pastries and coffee/tea. That’s the marking of Santa Lucia day in most households. The daughter brings light to the house.  Not at all that religious.  It’s become quite secular.  I’m surprised that the celebrations still take place on her actually feast day. “cough cough, St. Nicolaus, cough cough”

    And the kid looks adorable dressed as Santa Lucia.  It’s not a dress, it’s a robe.

    • #13
  14. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Kate Braestrup: She’s a legendary figure. And…it’s a child. In a costume. I’m okay with a little Asian girl dressing up as George Washington, even, but I’m definitely okay with her dressing up as Joan of Arc. Or Pocahontas. Or the Virgin Mary in a Christmas Pageant. I once played one of the three kings. I’m neither male nor middle-eastern. Was that bizarre? Or just…a second grader in a school pageant?

    Not the same thing. I have no objection to this in a school pagent or whatever, we are all pretending, even pretending these children represent adults in most cases.  This was a national advertising campaign.

    What is the purpose of this one should ask. Why did they do this? What’s the point?

    It’s blatant tradition-busting for attention. And if you object, you’re raaaaacist!

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    The communion of saints is an ancient belief of Christians. Among Christians who still hearken to saints (most notably, Catholics), another traditional belief — though not dogma — is in apparitions. As long-dead Jewish prophets appeared to Jesus in the Biblical tale (because faithful souls do not die), so His mother Mary has famously appeared at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, the Phillipines, and all around the world to impress on us the need to fast and pray.

    I mention it because Mary appears different each time. Always she looks like the people she is visiting. So for saints to be remembered in imitation by dissimilar faces is not very strange.

    But anything new takes getting used to. And, again, context matters. A black boy can dress as the Semitic Jesus in a play in true respect. Or a white boy can be denied the role because some fool thinks inclusion requires always favoring coincidental minorities.

    In Christian ethics, the motive, the means, and the likely consequences all matter.

    • #15
  16. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    As someone unfamiliar with St. Lucia, and specifically Swedish traditions, I think the photo shows an angelic child in a robe, not unlike what an altar boy would wear.

    People are sensitive I guess.

    maybe they just need rescuing by the saintly St. Lucia, to be whisked from their persecution.

    In our modern era, a darling dark skinned brown-eyed boy is as much a representative of Christians as the fair skinned blue-eyed child.

     

    • #16
  17. Johnnie Alum 13 Inactive
    Johnnie Alum 13
    @JohnnieAlum13

    What’s most offensive about the photo? The boy doesn’t appear to have a tray of cookies and coffee!

    • #17
  18. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Cute kid.

    However, the commentators had every right to be skeptical.  The left loves to mock traditions and try to use them as political wedge issues.  For example, they could have have had a dark skinned girl doing this, and I think the response would have better.  It would have been more akin to “Look, they want to take part in Swedish culture too!” as opposed to “How can we tweak people who actually care about tradition?”

    • #18
  19. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Yes or no – Do you think it is possible to object to this company’s advertising image without being racist, bigoted or small-minded?

    • #19
  20. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Trinity Waters:Let’s back this bus up.

    I don’t think that there is a right or wrong about these emotional reactions. Why are we surprised when a traditional rite like this is redefined for no good reason? (As is we didn’t know there are some darker-skinned children in the world?) Many people derive great comfort from their predictable and beautiful traditions. Traditions are worth preserving.

    No matter what your ideology, or personal preference for degree of correctness, or whatever message you’d like to convey, can’t you find a vehicle that doesn’t offend tradition, most especially a religious tradition? This should be a wake-up call to those who don’t understand the backlash. It’s of a piece with our desire for all obnoxious cultural messengers to leave us alone.

    So, sure, people who reacted with hateful or virulent statements might have paused a moment before lashing out, but they didn’t start it! They don’t owe anybody an apology; it’s quite the reverse.

    Merry Christmas.

     

    Nobody has the cojones to argue my point?  Sad.

    • #20
  21. Ford Penney Member
    Ford Penney
    @FordPenney

    This sounds like Åhlens set this up.

    What is their position?

    Are they happy with their actions?

    And does anyone actually think they did this to make the world a better place?

    The sad part is being manipulated by Åhlens and unfortunately rising to the bait.

    • #21
  22. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Franco:What is the purpose of this one should ask. Why did they do this? What’s the point?

    It’s blatant tradition-busting for attention. And if you object, you’re raaaaacist!

    I don’t know, traditions are always busted up by time and cultural preference, but not necessarily in a bad way. I think over reacting to it is probably more harmful than the actual act itself. Which probably hinged on some market testing of which cute kid got more people into the store.

    • #22
  23. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein Contributor
    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
    @AnnikaHernrothRothstein

    Ford Penney:This sounds like Åhlens set this up.

    What is their position?

    Are they happy with their actions?

    And does anyone actually think they did this to make the world a better place?

    The sad part is being manipulated by Åhlens and unfortunately rising to the bait.

    I agree completely. The company is obviously thrilled with the upset,and taking the bait is just silly and unwarranted,because it means engaging with leftists on their playing field,proving some vague point about conservatives and race/gender/religion. My point was that we shouldn’t take EVERY fight,but choose them carefully,and the winners when we took this particular fight is A: the company running this campaign and B: our political adversaries

    • #23
  24. The Whether Man Inactive
    The Whether Man
    @TheWhetherMan

    Trinity Waters:No matter what your ideology, or personal preference for degree of correctness, or whatever message you’d like to convey, can’t you find a vehicle that doesn’t offend tradition, most especially a religious tradition? This should be a wake-up call to those who don’t understand the backlash. It’s of a piece with our desire for all obnoxious cultural messengers to leave us alone.

    So, sure, people who reacted with hateful or virulent statements might have paused a moment before lashing out, but they didn’t start it! They don’t owe anybody an apology; it’s quite the reverse.

     

    People who directed hateful and virulent statements against a little kid absolutely owe him an apology (and an explanation of how exactly their actions represent being “Christian”).

    But I think the bigger issue is this is not a religious tradition, it’s a largely secular tradition with some vague Christian roots. So if Santa Claus in West Baltimore is black, and why shouldn’t the Lucia in black Swedish family be black?  What possible harm does it do to Christian/Swedish/ whatever other traditions?

    • #24
  25. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    The unfortunate reactions you cite indicate that the stray stories I have seen about the refugee/migrant strain in Nordic countries, especially Sweden, have traction.  Incidents like this, which is dated just a few days ago, and other reports this year indicate there are valid concerns about assimilation.  For the record, here is the wikipedia reference about the source of the second link as when I googled it there is some controversy about it.

    In another time and place, say 5 or 15 years ago, the inclusion of some non-female or non-blonde hair/blue eyed models would have been met with perhaps just a shake of the head or the thought that the world is becoming a Benneton ad.  Perhaps in years past the company used group photos of children from different backgrounds showing the new tapestry of Sweden – a nod to the fact that “Swedes” are all not blonde and blue eyed anymore.

    This year, the marketing team’s choice of a single non-traditional person, both a male and not traditionally Nordic, probably just seemed too “in your face” and rousted fears of the entire culture being subsumed by new arrivals. In the context of a rough year, it was just too edgy.

    This is not to condone what was written, but I think that context can perhaps explain what people thinking in the heat of the moment (aka real time on social media).

    • #25
  26. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Franco:What is the purpose of this one should ask. Why did they do this? What’s the point?

    It’s blatant tradition-busting for attention. And if you object, you’re raaaaacist!

    Well, there is that possibility. Or, they could be earnestly and honestly celebrating that there are little brown Swedish kids nowadays; that the good things in Sweden need not be reserved for persons with blond hair and blue eyes; that western culture writ large isn’t about a particular race but—because it has those Christian roots, with all the Saints and whatnot—is universally about human flourishing and thus is worth “imposing upon” or “being appropriated by” the newcomers…

    Or both. But if it is the former,  why take the bait? Why not say “ah, little brown St. Lucia—sweet!”

    • #26
  27. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein: the winners when we took this particular fight is A: the company running this campaign and B: our political adversaries

    Agree. And the loser is that little kid.

    I heard a short story read aloud on NPR years ago that stuck with me. Sadly, because I was driving, I never did catch the name of the author, but it (or at least, the hero)  was a black Southerner who need to buy a pick-up truck. He decided to deliberately seek out one with a confederate flag in the rear window—you know the transparent kind that is sort of laminated onto the glass? Anyway, the rest of the story is about the consternation, camaraderie and funny moments of human solidarity that this decision created.

    I think Milo has some great moments when he bends identity politics in ways that flummox the left—and, of course, as a flamingly gay man, he does it just by showing up. I think this is a great strategy, besides being fun and creative.

    It can be done hilariously, but it can also be done quite seriously—e.g. an advertisement in which a whole bunch of kids of all different races dress up in a suit and tie and recite Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

    • #27
  28. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Freesmith:Yes or no – Do you think it is possible to object to this company’s advertising image without being racist, bigoted or small-minded?

    Stop thinking white humans are people.  That makes you RAYCISS

    • #28
  29. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Isn’t this an example of ‘cultural appropriation’?

    It is a ridiculous argument when they say white people can’t wear sombrero’s and eat tacos, and it is a ridiculous argument when they say a young black boy can’t wear a candle crown and a robe.

    Like it, don’t like it, that is your choice, but what is with this tendency lately to scream ‘you CAN’T DO THAT!’ about every minor thing?  There are far more significant things to get your panties in a bunch over, no?

     

    • #29
  30. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Freesmith:

    Yes or no – Do you think it is possible to object to this company’s advertising image without being racist, bigoted or small-minded?

    Yes. It is possible to object to this company’s advertising image without being racist, bigoted or small-minded. And I suppose it is possible to say mean, threatening things about and to a child without  necessarily being a racist—one might just be a rotten human being.

     

    I’m sorry—I really can’t excuse hostility (racist or otherwise) when it’s directed at a child:

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein: Just a few days after the picture was published it had to be taken down after the boy’s mother asked the company to protect the boy from what ended up being a racist hate-storm.

     

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.