Pre-Christian roots of the feast. St Lucy’s Day is especially popular feast among the Scandinavian peoples, retaining many elements of the pagan tradition of winter solstice (Yule), which fell on December 13 before the calendar reform. With Christianity, the pagan celebration was replaced by St Lucy’s Day, commemorating her martyrdom on December 13. Also her name, which means “light”, was associated with the winter solstice, “light” as a symbol of rebirth of the sun.
The holiday of Yule, based on the annual struggle between light and darkness, was the most important holiday in Northern Europe. The sources mention Lussinatta, or Lussi Night, one of the earliest celebrations of Yule. In the folk beliefs Lussi was a mysterious evil female being, like a witch, who was riding through the air with her followers. Lussi Night marked the beginning of a "dark time" when spirits and faeries were active outside. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away to her dark world. Certain tasks of the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. People avoided to go out that night not to meet the evil spirits.
Picture: Sun and moon. Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514).
Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Sun_and_Moon_(LXXVIr).jpg
In the ancient Roman traditions there was Juni Lucina or Juno Lucetia, the Mother of Light, which was also known as the opener of the eyes of the newborn children.
St Lucy’s Day in Europe. Lucy’s celebration is associated mainly with Sweden and Norway, observed as well in Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Malta, Bosnia, Bavaria (Germany), Hungary, Spain, Croatia and Slovakia. A special devotion to St. Lucy is present in many regions of Italy, and, in particular, Syracuse hold a great festival devoted to its patroness.
In Hungarian folklore on the day of St. Lucy people are said to be able to see witches among the people in the church. To do this they would make a chair of nine different woods and during nine weeks, take it to the church, stand on it and look around to see the “witches”.
Italian traditions. There are different traditions of the Feast of Santa Lucia in Italy.
In the city of Syracuse (Sicily), where Lucy was born, celebrations take place in December and in May. By a legend, long after Lucy’s death there was a great famine in Sicily. Finally the prayers of the citizens were answered and on December 13 in 1582 a boat filled with grains appeared in the harbor. Instead of making flour from the grain people decided to boil and eat it, and in this way they were saved from hunger. In Sicily there is a special dish of grain called “cuccìa”, prepared in memory of this miracle on St Lucy’s Day. Some sources, anyway, present cuccìa as a typical “solstice soup” evoking the productive forces of nature and deriving from more ancient traditions.
Picture: Santa Lucia in procession at Catenanuova (Sicily). Photo by Luigi Proietto.
Taken from http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sluciacatenanuova.PNG
The lyrics of the Neapolitan song "Santa Lucia" tell about the picturesque waterfront district, Borgo Santa Lucia, in the Bay of Naple. It was transcribed by Teodoro Cottrau at Naples in 1849.
According to the traditions of Verona, around the 13th century there was an incurable epidemics of the eye diseases, especially among the children. The citizens decided to take on the pilgrimage to St Lucy’s Church in Syracuse to ask the assistance of the Saint. But the terrible cold was frightening children, so parents promised in case of the successful pilgrimage to give them many gifts on their turning back. The children agreed and went , and were miraculously cured after the pilgrimage. From then on there is a tradition to take children to the church for eyes benediction on December 13, and the night before children expect the presents from St Lucy.
In some Northern areas of Italy Lucy is the one who brings gifts to good children and coal to bad ones. She arrives in the company of a donkey, for which children usually leave some carrots and hay. This tradition is very similar to the one of St Nicholas, observed on December, 6. Children must not see St Lucy delivering the gifts, because they believe otherwise she would throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them.
In the Eastern part of Italy people used to prepare for children “el saladin de santa Lucia” – a sausage made of pig. For good sight also the special cookies are made: “eyes of Santa Lucia”, which have the form of eyes or glasses.
Scandinavian countries’ traditions. The Nordic observation of St. Lucy’s feast was first attested in the Middle Ages, though the modern celebration is about 200 years old.
Some sources tell that the tradition of honoring Lucy was introduced in Sweden by Vikings who traveled to Italy for trading and brought from there the stories and legends about Lucy. According to the old tradition, on St Lucy’s Day the eldest girl in the family would portray Lucy, putting on a white robe and a crown full of candles and serving her parents typical saffron biscuits called Lussekatter (or Lucia buns) and coffee.
According to the other legends, once the famine was spread in Northern Europe, and right on winter solstice a ship full of food arrived from the sea, with a woman in a white robe was standing on its helm, who was believed to be St Lucy.
The day of St Lucy in Scandinavia is an essential part of the Christmas festivities. It is always celebrated with traditional candle-lit processions. Nowadays different Swedish localities in advance elect a girl, who would portray Lucy. She is called Lucia Queen, or Lussibruden (Lucy Bride). 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 women with candles. The women sing “Lucia song” (an adaptation of the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia”). In Sweden schools close early on this day, and children, dressed in white and holding candles, bring Lucia buna to hospitals and nursing homes.
Picture: Albert Szent-Gyorgyi at the Santa Lucia feast in Stockholm, Sweden, 1937.
Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Szent-Gyorgyi_at_the_Santa_Lucia_feast_in_Stockholm_1937.jpg