Feast of St. Lucy and Traditional Celebrations
December 13th is the feast of St. Lucy (283-304), a noblewoman who was born in Syracuse, Italy, during the Diocletian persecution. She made a vow of virginity and distributed her wealth to the poor. This generosity angered the pagan youth to whom she had been unwillingly betrothed and who denounced her to Paschasius, the governor of Sicily. When it was decided to violate her virginity in a place of shame, Lucy, with the help of the Holy Spirit, stood immovable. A fire was then built around her, but again God protected her. She was finally executed by a sword.
As the name, Lucy, derives from ‘lux’ or ‘light’, she has become associated with festivals of light and with invocations against afflictions of the sight. Legend has it that she was blinded by her persecutors. The church of San Giovanni Maggiore at Naples even claims to possess her eyes.
In the old Julian calendar, Lucy’s feast fell on the shortest day of the year. She continues to be associated with the coming of longer days and sunlight. Her feast day marks the beginning of Christmas celebrations in Sweden, and some parts of Finland, and Norway. She is the patron of electricians, opthamologists, writers, and sales people. She is also the protector of those with diseases of the eye.
Saint Lucy, your beautiful name signifies light. By the light of faith which God bestowed upon you, increase and preserve this light in my soul so that I may avoid evil, be zealous in the performance of good works, and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin. By your intercession with God, obtain for me perfect vision for my bodily eyes and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory and the salvation of all men. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. Amen.
Celebrating St. Lucy’s Day
Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland
In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, Saint Lucy is venerated on her feast day, December 13, in a ceremony where a young girl is chosen to portray the noble virgin and martyr. Wearing a white gown with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of other girls, each holding a candle, and singing a song in honor of Saint Lucy. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take Saint Lucy’s life when she was sentenced to be burned to death by the Roman judge, during the persecution of Diocletian.
Boys take part in the procession as well, playing different roles associated with Christmas. Some may be dressed in the same kind of white robe, but with a cone-shaped hat decorated with golden stars, called stjärngossar (star boys); some may be dressed up as “tomtenissar”, carrying lanterns; and some may be dressed up as gingerbread men. They participate in the singing and also have a song or two of their own, usually Staffan Stalledräng, which tells the story about Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, caring for his five horses.
St. Lucy is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse (Sicily). Sicily and Northern parts of Italy celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day or Santa Lucia’s Day, as a national holiday. The “Parade of Light” is held on December 13 to pay respects to Saint Lucia and her influence in the famine of 1582. Tradition holds that a famine ended when she arrived with ships filled with wheat to help the starving Sicilians. The Sicilians were so hungry that they just cooked the wheat without bothering to grind it into flour. Thus, Italians eat whole grains instead of bread on December 13. This usually takes the form of cuccia, a dish of boiled wheat berries often mixed with ricotta and honey, or sometimes served as a savory soup with beans.
St. Lucy is also popular among children in some regions of North-Eastern Italy, namely Trentino, East Lombardy (Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and Mantua), 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 December 12 and 13. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, hay and carrots for the donkey and a glass of wine or bread for Castaldo.