St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) was a young Sicilian girl who vowed to
live as a virgin in devotion to Christ. Her mother, however, arranged a
marriage for her to a pagan suitor. To dissuade her mom by proof of a
miracle, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha that her mother's
hemmhorage would stop. When the miracle happened, her mother agreed to
leave aside the topic of marriage.
Lucy's suitor, however, had other plans, and revealed Lucy as a
Christian. Authorities went to collect her, planning on forcing her
into prostitution -- but they were unable to budge her, even after
tying her to a team of oxen. She was then tortured by having her eyes
torn out. They'd planned on torturing her by fire, too, but the fires
kept going out. She was then killed by being stabbed in the throat with
Because of the above, St. Lucy is the patron of those with eye
problems, and is often depicted carrying her eyes (often on a plate),
being tied to a team of oxen, with St. Agatha, or before her judges.
Her relics lay in Syracuse for hundreds of years, were translated to
Constantinople, and then to Venice where they may be venerated at the
Church of San Geremia. Her head was sent to Louis XII of France, and
reposes in the cathedral of Bourges.
Her name, "Lucia," means "Light," and light plays a role in the customs
of her Feast Day. In Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark her day, and bowls of a cooked
wheat porridge known as cuccia is eaten because, during a famine, the
people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy, who interceded by sending a ship
laden with grain (much as St. Joseph
also did for the people of Sicily). Cuccia can be made so that it's
savory or sweet. The wheat is most often simply soaked overnight,
rinsed, simmered in water to cover by 2 inches for 3 hours or until
tender, and then served with milk and sugar, much like oatmeal is. Or
it can be a bit more elaborate:
1 pound whole wheat
10 ounces fig honey or other flavorful honey
Dried orange peel, grated
Soak the grain in cold water for 24 hours, rinse it, and then boil it
in water for three hours or until tender. Let it cool, then drain and
return it to the fire with the honey, orange peel, and walnuts.
Some of the loveliest St. Lucy's Day customs are Swedish:
in Sweden, the oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on
St. Lucy's Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red
sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of
greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by "starboys,"
her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats
that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands.
"St. Lucy" will go around her house and wake up her family to serve
them special St. Lucy Day foods, such as saffron buns and Lussekatter
(St. Lucy's Cats), shaped into X's, figure-8s, S-shapes, or crowns.
(makes 10-12 buns)
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 beaten egg white for egg wash
Using a mortar and pestle, pound saffron threads to break down strands.
In a small saucepan, heat milk to lukewarm.
Mix yeast with 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.
On low heat, melt butter in saucepan with milk. Add crushed saffron.
In large bowl, mix together flour salt and remaining sugar.
Stir yeast into cooled milk mixture. Mix into dry ingredients, beating
to mix well. Add beaten eggs. Knead in bowl for 5 - 7 minutes. Turn
onto floured board and knead another 7 - 8 minutes.
Put dough in lightly greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover and
put in warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour.
When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into
small pieces (about 10 - 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece
into a strip about 8 - 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an 'S' or
a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets.
Cover with clean cloth and let rise again until double in bulk, about 1
to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
When dough has risen, brush lightly with egg white. Bake in preheated
375° F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on wire
The Saint is
honored with the Neapolitan song "Santa Lucia" (click to hear), but with the lyrics
altered to focus on the Saint rather than the Italian harbor named for
her. In Sweden, there are also public processions of "Lucias," and
cities will elect an official "Lucia" for the year, with Sweden
electing a national representative of the Saint.
In yet another astronomical coincidence (or not?) given the meaning of
Lucia's name, the evening of the 13th/morning of the 14th is the time
when the Geminids make their appearance. The Geminids, along with the
Perseids in August (see the Feast of St.
Lawrence) and the Leonids, are the meteor shower that tend to be
the large and spectacular. The Geminids can also be rather colorful!
Look toward the East after midnight to try to see them!