Saint Lucy Feast Day is December 13th
December 13th is our patron saint’s feast day! Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia) was a young virgin martyr in Syracuse, Sicily (Italy) in the late 200s A.D. who was put to death in 304 A.D. Excavation in Syracuse revealed a tomb dating to the 4th century with an inscription that it belonged to St. Lucy (her relics were removed hundreds of years after her death and are believed to currently be in Venice, Italy). Beyond this, little factual information is known about St. Lucy. Her name, Lucia in Italian, is believed to be derived from the Latin Lux, a term for “light.” The earliest known written information about St. Lucy’s story is from the late 400s, Acts of the Martyrs, which indicates there was already veneration shown to her by that time. By the 6th century, legends about St. Lucy had spread throughout Italy and other parts of Europe. Although the stories vary somewhat, the common theme in all of them is that St. Lucy dedicated herself to Christ and to serving the poor, which angered the pagan to whom she was betrothed. He denounced her as a Christian to the authorities, who then attempted first to drag her to a house of prostitution and then, when they could not physically move her, to burn her – which was also a failure. Ultimately, they ended St. Lucy’s life with a dagger or sword to her throat.
St. Lucy’s legend holds that her eyes were gauged out and God then provided her with new eyes. This came about, it is said, because her pagan suitor loved her beautiful eyes. In some versions of this story, St. Lucy plucked out her eyes herself and gave them to her suitor; in other versions, her eyes were removed by her persecutors. St. Lucy is often depicted holding a small plate with two eyes on it. She is the patron saint of the blind.
Legend has it that St. Lucy delivered wheat and bread to the poor and homebound, and possibly to Christians staying in the catacombs, often in the darkness of night to avoid detection. She would carry a lamp or wear a crown of candles (to free her hands for carrying food) to light her way. Because of this, the lamp and wreath of candles are symbols of St. Lucy. Hence the lamp that has long been a symbol of our parish.
According to legends of the Middle Ages in a couple different locations in Italy, including Sicily, ships filled with wheat came into harbors on St. Lucy’s feast day, saving the people from a famine. A Sicilian tradition based on this legend is to make a soup and a dessert with wheat berries on St. Lucy’s feast day. In Croatia, Christmas wheat is planted in a pot (indoors) on St. Lucy’s feast day. By Christmas Eve, the wheat shoots have emerged and the wheat is placed next to the manger scene as a gift to Jesus and a reminder for us that God feeds our souls with the Eucharist and our bodies with wheat.
Likewise, according to Scandinavian legend of the Middle Ages, during a terrible famine in southern Sweden and on the darkest day of the year, people saw a boat sailing across Lake Vannern. St. Lucia was at its prow, dressed in white and glowing with an unearthly light. When the boat came to the shore, she handed out enough sacks of wheat for the people to have bread through the winter. Scandinavian St. Lucia traditions include making “Lussekatter,” a slightly sweet saffron breakfast bread shaped in specific ways, and visiting the poor, sick, or homebound to serve the Lussekatter with coffee and to sing the Santa Lucia song.
There are many other traditions associated with St. Lucy in various cultures that were brought to the Americas and are still celebrated today, from the East Coast (Society of St. Lucy of Syracuse in Hartford, CT) to the Midwest (Sicilian Italian-based St. Lucy festival in Omaha, NE) to the West Coast (Scandinavian Santa Lucia service and celebration at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sacramento, CA). All the traditions incorporate symbolic meaning of St. Lucy as the bearer of Christ’s light in the darkness of winter from her feast day (Dec. 13) until His birth at Christmas.
While it may be hard to distinguish fact from legend surrounding our patron saint, one thing is certain: This 3rd century Christian dedicated her life to Christ and to serving others and is an example to us for how we can use our time, talents, and treasure to carry the light of Christ to others in their time of need.
“To God’s servants the right words will not be wanting, for the Holy Spirit speaks in us. . . All who live piously and chastely are temples of the Holy Spirit.” –Attributed to St. Lucy
Colors and symbols associated with St. Lucy:
Red = martyr
White = purity
Yellow/orange = light
Blue (Southern Italy)
Wreath of candles (especially Scandinavian countries)
Palm branch (martyr’s victory over evil)
References and resources:
Lucia: Saint of Light, by Katherine Bolger Hyde