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 a dagger.
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. Let
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 rack.
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.