By: Julie M. YoungHow to Celebrate St. Lucy Day
Saint Lucy Day (also known as Sankta Lucia or Santa Lucia Day) is a Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox Christian holy day that’s celebrated throughout the world on December 13, particularly in Sweden, Scandinavia and Italy. St. Lucy Day celebrates, with Advent, the start of the Christmas season as well as the winter solstice (according to the Julian calendar).
Who was St. Lucy?
St. Lucy was a 4th century girl in Syracuse, Italy who was martyred for her Christian faith by the Romans under Diocletian, possibly because she refused marriage to devote her life to God. Not much else is known about her, but by the 6th century she was well-known throughout the Christian world, and many legends had taken root.
The name Lucy means “light,” which comes from the root for lucid and understanding. Thus, her holy day celebration was celebrated on the darkest day of the year. One legend has it that Lucy’s eyes were put out because of the Romans or a spurned suitor, but then her sight was restored by God. She’s often depicted holding a plate with her eyes on it, and is also a patron saint of the blind.
How to Celebrate in the Style of Sweden and Scandinavia
In Scandinavia, St. Lucy Day celebrates the “Festival of Lights.” Scandinavia has some of the darkest winters in the world, so a celebration of light holds much meaning.
The celebration begins on the morning of St. Lucy Day, when a girl child---the youngest or the oldest---portrays the Lucia Queen. She wears a white dress with a red sash and a wreath with white candles on her head (for safety reasons, people now use battery operated-candles). The Lucia Queen wakes the rest of her family with a tray of saffron buns (called Lussekatter) and coffee. The other girl children also dress in white and carry single candles while singing songs. Though the role was traditionally female, boys also now have a part in the celebration as Star Boys. They wear white pajamas and a conical hat with stars on it, and join the song and merriment.
In Denmark, St. Lucy Day took on a more political role during World War II. Called Luciadag, the celebration was a passive protest against the German occupation. It was meant to bring light in a time of darkness, and is still celebrated today.
How to Celebrate in the Style of Italy
Italy celebrates St. Lucy Day in a few different ways. In the north eastern areas of Italy, St. Lucy brings gifts to good children and coal to the bad ones on December 13. The children in turn must leave her a snack, and promise to not see St. Lucy (aided by her donkey) make her deliveries. Should a child see St. Lucy delivering the gifts, legend has it that Lucy throws ashes into the child’s eyes, blinding them.
In Sicily, St. Lucy’s home region, St. Lucy’s Day is celebrated with food---most notably, cuccia, a dish made of wheat berries, chocolate, sugar and milk. They also make Santa Lucia cookies, which are in the shape of eyes.
Holiday Party Checklist
If you’re planning on hosting St. Lucy Day festivities, you’ll need these items, depending on the country of choice.
Sweden and Scandinavia
- Lussekatter (saffron buns)
- Wreath (for the table or a child’s head)
- White Candles (battery-operated for the child’s head; tapers for the table)
- White dress or pants for boys and girls.
- Star hat
- The song “Sankta Lucia.” Look for Holger Lissners version.
- Santa Lucia cookies
- Traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia.” Look for the Enrico Caruso version.
Having a potluck holiday meal? Here are some planning ideas.