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Celebrating Santa Lucia Day in Italy
Submitted by Pam on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 20:14
Image courtesy of Madame Renard
Santa Lucia is beloved by the Scandinavian people, most especially the Swedish; however, Lucia was born, lived and died a martyr in Sicily. December 13, Saint Lucia Day, is celebrated still to this day in many parts of Italy and after three long years of sharing the Scandinavian celebration of this holiday on this blog I am so thrilled to finally be able to share in what ways the Italians celebrate.
CELEBRATIONS OF SANTA LUCIA IN ITALY
Santa Lucia was born in Italy (precisely in Siracusa, an amazing Sicilian city), therefore it is not unusual that in Italy many people have a special devotion to this Saint. If you visit Italian churches, you can easily notice images of Lucia (painted or sculpted) and altars dedicated to this beloved saint.
Aspettando S. Lucia by Frida_Clio
Important celebrations of her feast (December 13th) take place in almost the whole nation. But there are two areas of Italy where the feast is particularly important: parts of two regions in the north of Italy and in Sicily.
By mere coincidence, I'm an Italian girl who grew up in one of the northern regions that celebrates St. Lucia and recently I moved to Sicily. So I can tell you something about Santa Lucia's celebrations in both areas.
SANTA LUCIA CELEBRATIONS IN THE NORTH
The feast is celebrated in a restricted area once dominated by Venetian Republic (Venezia saves Lucia's relics). For those who know Italian geography and history, I can specify the name of these two regions: Lombardia (only the east) and Veneto.
The tradition says that Lucy visits our houses the night before December 13th, riding her donkey, and leaving gifts for good and obedient children. The week before, children send a letter to Lucia with the help of their parents: they write a sort of wish list and try to assure Lucia they have been good during the year.
When December 12th comes, homes are prepared as families want to welcome Lucy in the best way possible. So, generally in the living room, children prepare a corner with water and food to refresh Lucia during her long travel in the cold night. Offerings to Lucia generally consist of biscuits, oranges, coffee and cakes. Her donkey is not forgotten, of course! There is also a bucket of water for it and some hay. Children have to go to bed early. They know that, if Lucia comes when they are still awake, she goes away without leaving her gifts.
The following morning after they wake up, the children of the house run to see their gifts and what Lucia and the donkey have eaten of the food and drink that they left for them the night before.
It's a magic moment! I'll never forget how exciting this feast was for me, when I was a child! Together with the gifts, children often find candies and all sort of sweet foods.
Adults also often get into the spirit of the celebration and give candy or chocolate as a gift to other adults (friends or relatives) during this time
Image courtesy of Madame Renard
Around December 13th in a lot of cities you can find outdoor markets selling candies and handmade products to buy as gifts. Many stands display traditional trays covered with candies which are wrapped and ready to be purchased and given to friends. I lived closed to the city of Lodi where the market is open for seven days.
The Feast of Santa Lucia is important to to those of us who celebrate it, but it is not any more important than Christmas.
I know that Santa Lucia is celebrated in another region of the north, called Trentino-Alto Adige. The tradition is quite similar, but with some differences due to the influence of the German and Austrian culture.
Siracusa by Leandro's World Tour
SANTA LUCIA CELEBRATIONS IN SICILY
In this region the feast is different. It is mostly a religious feast, without gifts, markets or sweets. The most important celebration takes place in Siracusa, of course, the city where Lucia was born and martyred.
The evening of December 12th, during a religious ceremony in the cathedral, the silver statue of Lucia (patron of the city) is moved from its chapel to the high altar. The day after, the statue is carried by a procession of 6o men with green berets throughout the entire city. The procession, which begins at 3.30 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m., stops at the most important churches and the sea. The statue is followed and prayed to by a crowd of devotees.
Cuccia by Le foto di Grimmo via Getty Images
During the feast of Santa Lucia, a traditional food is prepared and eaten, not only in Siracusa but in all of Sicily: its name is "Cuccìa". It's a sweet dish made of boiled wheat, prepared in different ways in the various parts of the region.
The origin of this dish is the city of Palermo, the regional capital. According to legend, some centuries ago, the region was suffering a terrible famine and people had nothing to eat. On December 13rd a mysterious ship (probably sent by Santa Lucia?) landed at Palermo's harbour: it was full of wheat! People immediately started to boil and eat it as they were much too hungry to wait for it to be milled and made into bread.
Today this dish is eaten in the whole region to thank and celebrate Santa Lucia. By mere coincidence a girl who is a member of my Etsy team (EtsyItaliaTeam) wrote a blog post about "cuccia" which also includes a recipe. It's written both in English and in Italian and it has photos. Calendario dell'Advvento - Giorno 13. (Advent Calendar - December 13.)
In Sicily a lot of towns and villages celebrate Lucia on her day with a religious ceremony. I know that other parts of Italy celebrate Lucia in different ways, but the feast is not important as in the areas I've written about. Unfortunately I don't know their traditions and I can't tell you anything about them. But (why not?) I can do some research and write some for you next year, if you are interested.
I can only add that Lucia is the patron of all people who have problems with their eyes and she is prayed to for recovery during her feast in some villages. She's also considered the patron of engaged people and some years ago girls used to embroider and sew for their dowery the night between December 12th and 13th. (Nobody does it now, I suppose!)
Thank you, Silvia for preparing this beautiful story of how Santa Lucia is celebrated in Italy so that I can share it with my readers. I have always felt I was neglecting Italy when I celebrated the day. But it has been difficult to fine much information. I am indebted to you.
Since so many of us have not had the good fortune to travel to Italy, I have added a few images of Siracusa and the northern Italian regions spoken of above.
Happy Santa Lucia Day to all.
Mountains in Lombardia, Italy by Niels
Possagno, Veneto, Italy by efilpera
Near San Rocco Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy by Max Nicolodi
Siracusa, Sicily, Italy by Neil Weightman
Duomo di Siracusa by Luc V. de Zeeuw