In Sweden, today is called “Luciadagen.” It marks the start of Christmas celebrations in Sweden, and the start of a festival of lights.
St Lucy celebrations got mingled with old pagan winter solstice customs. A young woman would dress up in white and go from house to house with a torch bringing baked goods, often cat-shaped ones flavoured with saffron called “Lussekatter” (Lucy’s cats.) The Nordic goddess, Freya, had driven a chariot pulled by cats. In Scandinavia, any turning motions — spinning, grinding, even stirring — were said to be bad luck as they might interfere with the change of direction the sun was undergoing at Solstice. Lucy candles are lit in some homes still in Scandinavia.
In Croatia, whole seeds of wheat are arranged around the edges of a round plate or dish, wetted, and left to germinate. By Christmas Eve, they have wheat sprouts. In some parts of Croatia such as Gorski Kotar, a floating candle is placed in the centre and lit; in other parts, they’re tied together with a red, white and blue ribbon. In southern and north-eastern Croatia, it is St Lucy who brings presents to children.
She is also the patron saint of Syracuse, Sicily, where she is called “Santa Lucia.” In 1582, she was credited with causing a ship with wheat to come into the starving city. The people were so hungry that they cooked and ate the wheat without grinding it into flour. Now, on St Lucy’s day in Sicily, nothing is made with flour in memory of that day. Instead, in Palermo, Sicily, a breakfast porridge called “Cuccia” is made from wheat berries. Later in the day, a bean soup also called “Cuccia” is made from fava beans and wheat berries.
In Venice, Italy, fried cheese is served.
Lucy was martyred in 304 AD on 13th December which, in the Julian calendar of the time, was the Winter Solstice. Her remains are in the church of Santa Lucia, Venice, brought there from Constantinople around 768 AD (some say 1204 AD).
Literature & Lore
“Since shee enjoyes her long nights festivall,
Let mee prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigill, and her Eve, since this
Bothe the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is”
— John Donne (1572 – 1631). “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day.”
The name “Lucy”, aka “Lucia”, comes from the Latin word for “light”, “lux”.
Öhlén, Mats . Lucia: a rather strange Swedish tradition. Stockholm, Sweden: Stockholm News. 14 December 2008.