December 13 is the Feast of St. Lucia or Lucy of Syracuse, Sicily. From Lives of the Saints, Volume 3, by Catholic Press:
In the Roman Martyrology, Saint Lucy is called both virgin and martyr, and in both titles lies the secret of her sanctity in the Roman Empire of the fourth century. Recent excavations in Syracuse, the ancient capital of Sicily, revealed both her tomb and an inscription dating from the end of the fourth century that mentions her feast day. She is known to have been honored in Rome in the sixth century and she is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. Lucy, whose name means "light" was invoked by the devout of the Middle Ages as the patroness of those afflicted with any eye disease. In art she is often shown carrying a dish with two eyeballs on it. The poet Dante prayed to Saint Lucy for the relief of an eye ailment, and in his Divine Comedy he gave this saint one of the most honored places in heaven, next to that of Saint John the Baptist. Much of what we are told about Saint Lucy may be legend. The earliest account of her martyrdom, although written some time before the sixth century, is not considered authentic.
Her legend can be found at Patron Saints Index.
Lucy means "light" and she is the patron of eye troubles and blindness. As mentioned above, she is often portrayed holding her eyeballs on a dish, although in the painting above by Francesco del Cossa has the eyes held in a more unique way. Her feast originally coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feastday has become a feast of light...of course, not The Light, but pointing to Christ our Light.. There are so many approaches to thinking of light -- Christ the Light of the World comes at Christmas; Christ our Light in the Paschal Candle at Easter; we see light through the gift of eyesight; we are enlightened by our Faith and grace; light comes through sunlight, fire, electricity; scientific analysis of the speed of light and the light spectrum, the rainbow colors...and this merely scratches the surface.
All over the world we remember this virgin-martyr saint less than 2 weeks before Christmas. Whether you embrace the Lucia Child of Sweden, the Sicilian customs or particular family traditions, light should play a prominent role in the feast!
There was a real St. Lucia, as you can see from Basilica of St. Lucy in Syracuse, Sicily that holds her relics. There are pictures here of the sepulchre. And don't miss the beautiful depiction in the basilica by Caravaggio "Death of St. Lucia".
I don't have a girl, so we don't play up the Swedish Lucia much. I decorate with a few Swedish items, and pictures of St. Lucy. I have a Brass Lucia Crown with real candles that I received as a Christmas present one year, a Dala horse, and Swedish Angel Chimes. I had a set of these as a young girl and loved seeing the candles and hearing the sweet soft chimes. I found mine at an antique store for a few dollars, and I thought it would be a perfect addition for a feast with light.
I wanted to decorate my brass wreath with lingonberry leaves, which are used in Sweden, but not native to USA. After much searching I found at one of the craft stores a long artificial garland with similar leaves and berries. Perhaps one day I'll have a daughter who can wear the Lucia Crown. It seems that even in Sweden battery operated candles are the way to go. Safety first! Some craft and party ideas:
- Swedish Lucia Fest
- Paper Dali St. Lucia Paper Dolls to color and cut
- Catholic Icing Ideas for St. Lucy
- Paper Santa Lucia crowns and hats
- Adorable St. Lucia Dolls
- St. Lucia Puppet and Song to color
- Santa Lucia Paper Doll
- Waltzing Matilda Coloring Pages
- Another appropriately themed craft would be making candles. A simple way that would make a great gift is Teacup Lights.
Not all traditions for St. Lucia are from Sweden. There is a Croatian and Hungarian custom of planting the St. Lucy Wheat on this day. See
- St. Lucy and the Christmas Wheat from The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland
- Christmas Wheat from Maria von Trapp
- Ideas from various countries
- Collection of St. Lucia links
There have been a few terrific blog posts in the past years on preparing for the feast of St. Lucia from families who have experience, in baking, reading, crafting and celebrating:
- O Night Divine Fresh Hay for the Manger, planting Wheat for St. Lucy's Day
- Karen's Preparing for St. Lucia Day and We Made Lucia Wreaths!
- Christine Beauty of Advent II, with making Lucia Wreaths
- Maggie's St. Lucy Dolls
- Jennifer's St. Lucy's Crown
- Waltzing Matilda's Lucy Crowns
This site has almost every image of St. Lucia on holycards imaginable.
- I reviewed Lucia, Saint of Light, which now runs the top of our Lucia book list. This story includes both the life of St. Lucia and the Swedish traditions of the Lucia bride.
- Lucia: Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand. The history and tradition of Sweden's Lucia celebration. Includes recipes, songs, and other traditions related to this Swedish celebration.
- LuciaMorning.com gives the information for the book Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker, with illustrations by Carina Stahlberg. A living story about Lucia Morning traditions in Sweden, but also includes recipes, music, and patterns for a Starboy and Lucia gown.
- Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story by Janet Shaw, from The American Girls' Collection. A wonderful story about Kirsten and her first Christmas in Minnesota and her struggle to make her Christmas similar to ones in Sweden, including her Lucia Morning. The companion cookbook Kirsten's Cook Book includes a recipe for St. Lucia Buns.
- If you're blessed to own a copy, or your library has one, Hanna's Christmas by Melissa Wiley Peterson is perfect for this feast day. See What We'll Be Reading and Hanna and Me.
- Swedish Christmas in America by Catarina Lundren is a gorgeous cookbook, rich with pictures, recipes and traditions. Get some sneak previews from Christmas in Sweden.
These have great ideas for a Swedish unit or Swedish Lucia items. I've used both and have been very pleased.
Websites and Links:
- St. Lucia Unit Christmas Traditions of Sweden and Norway By Clarice Fox-Hughes.
- St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, Catholic Culture
- Catholic Encyclopedia St. Lucy
- Domestic Church, St. Lucy
- Golden Legend: Life of Saint Lucy (to translate), or English Version at Patron Saints Index)
- Elrdbarry Legends of St. Lucia
- Multiple links for saints stories to read about Lucy
Not all foods for this feast day are Swedish. Italians and Sicilians have some wonderful recipes for celebrating this day, too. There are quite a few recipes on Catholic Culture including St. Lucia Cats, St. Lucy Buns, St. Lucia Crown...
The use of saffron in some of these recipes points back to the light reference, with the yellow reminding us of sunlight. A very simple approach to getting the yellow or saffron on the dinner table is making a variant of yellow rice. There are recipes from various cultures, or the simplest route of using box mix like Zatarains, Goya, or Mahatma.
For other recipes, see also:
- Catholic Cuisine for wonderful ideas
- Eyes of St. Lucy (Occhi Di Santa)
- Cuccia with the connections of House of Bread, St. Lucy Wheat
- Sicilian Recipes, including Cuccia Dessert and Cuccia Soup
- Swedish Ginger Cookies Lucia Pepparkakor
- Swedish Saffron Cake (no yeast)
- Lucia Bread with symbols
- Swedish Glogg
- Swedish Coffee
- St. Lucia Buns
- St. Lucia's Braided Bread
- Santa Lucia Crown
- Sankta or Sancta Lucia Song
- Mario Lanza sings Santa Lucia Song
- CD - Lucia Celebration
- Julsanger Och julvisor
- En Riktig Svensk Jul
Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation every corner of our day. Amen.
St. Lucia, Pray for Us.