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13# Saint Lucy’s Day: traditions of the world

Today 13 December is celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day, a Christian feast day commemorating Saint Lucy, a 3rd-century martyr under the Diocletianic Persecution, who according to the legend brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs, using a candle-lit wreath to light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible. She was one of the earliest Christian martyrs, and was killed by the Romans in 304 CE because of her religious beliefs.
Before calendar reforms, her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, so this day has become a Christian festival of light. Her name comes from the Latin word “lux” meaning light, and is linked with this element and with the days growing longer after the Winter solstice.
Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, with their long dark winters, where it is a major feast day, and in Italy, with each emphasising a different aspect of the story.
In Scandinavia Saint Lucy is called Santa Lucia in Norwegian and Sankta Lucia in Swedish, and she is represented as a lady in a white dress, a symbol of a Christian’s white baptismal robe, and red sash which symbolizing the blood of her martyrdom with a wreath of candles on her head.
In this regions, as songs are sung, girls dressed as Saint Lucy carry cookies and saffron buns in procession, which symbolizes bringing the light of Christianity throughout world darkness, and It is said that celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day will help one live the long winter days with enough light.

A Saint Lucy procession in Sweden, 2007. Wikipedia.

Saint Lucy is celebrated also in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the north of the country, and Sicily, in the south, but also in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. In Hungary and Croatia, a popular tradition on Saint Lucy’s Day involves planting wheat grains that will eventually be several centimetres high on Christmas, representing the Nativity, and a candle is sometimes placed near the new plant as a symbol of the Light of Christ.

St. Lucy is the patron saint of the italian city of Siracusa, inSicily. Here On 13 December a silver statue of St. Lucy containing her relics is paraded through the streets before returning to the Cathedral of Syracuse. Sicilians remeber a popular legend that holds that a famine ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. Here, it is traditional to eat whole grains instead of bread on 13 December, and this usually takes the form of Cuccìa, a delicious dish of boiled wheat berries often mixed with ricotta, honey, fruits candied or chocolate chips.
Historically in inscription in Syracuse dedicated to Euskia mentioning St Lucy’s Day as a local feast dates back to the 4th century A.D., which states “Euskia, the irreproachable, lived a good and pure life for about 25 years, died on my Saint Lucy’s feast day, she for whom I cannot find appropriate words of praise: she was a Christian, faithful, perfection itself, full of thankfulness and gratitude”.
The Feast of Saint Lucy became a universal feast of the Church in the 6th century, commemorating the Christian martyr’s death on 13 December 304 A.D.

Sicilian Cuccìa, source image MeteoWeb

St. Lucy is also popular among children in some regions of North-Eastern Italy, like Trentino, East Lombardy (Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and Mantua), some parts of Veneto, (Verona), parts of Emilia-Romagna, (Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Bologna), and all of Friuli, where she is said to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones the night between 12 and 13 December. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them.

Saint Lucy’s Day 1848 by Fritz von Dardel.

You already know the stories of the various Christmas monsters. In Sweden Lussinatta, “the Lussi Night”, was marked on 13 December. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a demon or witch, was said to ride through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda.
On 13 December night creatures, trolls and evil spirits, and in some legends also the spirits of the dead, wandered throughout cities and villages, and It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during this night.
According to tradition, children who had done mischief had to take special care, because Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away.
There was also tradition to stay awake through the Lussinatta to guard oneself and the household against evil, called Lussevaka, which today has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits was said to come riding through the night around Lussi itself, journeying through the air, over land and water.

Christmas season card with Lucia in the snow. Adèle Söderberg (1880-1915)

But Saint Lucy is not celebrated only in Europe: in Saint Lucia, a tiny island in the Caribbean named after its patron saint, St. Lucy, 13 December is celebrated as National Day. The National Festival of Lights is held the night before the holiday, in honour of St Lucy of Syracuse the saint of light. In this celebration, decorative Christmas lights are lit in the capital city of Castries, where artisans present decorated lanterns for a competition. The official activities end with a fireworks display.
The celebration of St. Lucia Day is popular also among Scandinavian Americans, and is celebrated in many different ways, including parties, at home, in churches, and through organizations across the country. Continuing to uphold this ritual helps people keep ties with the Scandinavian countries.
For example in Lindsborg, Kansas, their St. Lucia celebration is a way to display the town’s Swedish heritage.
Since 1979, Hutto, Texas, has held a St. Lucia celebration for their town at the Lutheran church. Every year a Lucia is picked from the congregation, then the procession walks around the church, sings the traditional St. Lucia song, and serves the traditional saffron buns and ginger cookies.

Celebration of Saint Lucy’s Day in a Lutheran church (2006), Wikipedia.

Lucia buns, made with saffron. Wikipedia.

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