Since the 11th century, Advent has been the preparation for the Christmas season and begins four weeks before Christmas Eve. The most important day of the week is always the Sunday of Advent, when the lighting of all four candles on the Advent wreath begins. In the days of old, Advent was connected to popular folk customs during Lent. Traditional customs are connected with the most beautiful time of the year, such as baking cookies, making ornaments from dried fruit, nuts and straw, lead casting and telling the future, hanging mistletoe over the door and kissing for luck underneath it, lighting candles in the shells of walnuts, and building Nativity scenes.
St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) was a young Sicilian girl who vowed to live as a virgin in devotion to Christ. Her mother, however, arranged a marriage for her to a pagan suitor. To dissuade her mom by proof of a miracle, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha that her mother’s hemmhorage would stop. When the miracle happened, her mother agreed to leave aside the topic of marriage.
Lucy’s suitor, however, had other plans, and revealed Lucy as a Christian. Authorities went to collect her, planning on forcing her into prostitution — but they were unable to budge her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. She was then tortured by having her eyes torn out. They’d planned on torturing her by fire, too, but the fires kept going out. She was then killed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger.
Because of the above, St. Lucy is the patron of those with eye problems, and is often depicted carrying her eyes (often on a plate), being tied to a team of oxen, with St. Agatha, or before her judges. Her relics lay in Syracuse for hundreds of years, were translated to Constantinople, and then to Venice where they may be venerated at the Church of San Geremia. Her head was sent to Louis XII of France, and reposes in the cathedral of Bourges.
Her name, “Lucia,” means “Light,” and light plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day. In Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark her day, and bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia is eaten because, during a famine, the people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy, who interceded by sending a ship laden with grain .
In yet another astronomical coincidence? Given the meaning of Lucia’s name, the evening of the 13th/morning of the 14th is the time when the Geminids make their appearance. The Geminids, along with the Perseids in August and the Leonids, are the meteor shower that tend to be the large and spectacular. The Geminids can also be rather colorful! Look toward the East after midnight to try to see them!
LUCY’ S DAY TRADITIONS
In some Catholic cultures (especially in Scandinavia) it’s common to have a Mass procession on St. Lucy’s feast day with young girls carrying candles, with the lead girl wearing a wreath of lights.
Tradition holds that St. Lucy would wear a wreath of candles on her head so she could see better, her arms full of supplies, as she served the poor Christians hiding from persecution in the dark underground catacombs.
Many countries have special St. Lucy’s day traditions, but perhaps the most well-known are the ones of Italian and Scandinavin origin.
“The oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on St. Lucy’s Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by ‘Star Boys,’ her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. ‘St. Lucy’ will go around her house and wake up her family to serve them special St. Lucy Day foods” which were usually baked sweets.
One simple way to incorporate a St. Lucy’s day sweet treat into your family is with St. Lucy’s bread. Read one family’s fun and easy St. Lucy day tradition (perfect for young girls!)
St. Lucy’s feast day is associated with many wonderful Catholic traditions. Consider incorporating them into your family, or even into your parish, as a new way to celebrate saint feast days that fall during the Advent season.
If you celebrate a St. Lucy Day tradition in your family,
In thy patience thou didst possess thy soul,
O Lucy, Spouse of Christ!
Thou didst despise what is of the world,
and now thou are resplendent among the choirs of angels;
with thy own blood thou didst conquer the enemy!
~Antiphon from the Divine Office for the feast of St. Lucy
The thirteenth of December, the feast day of St. Lucy, used to be the winter solstice at the time of the older Julian calendar. From that time a saying arose: “Lucy sips the night away but the day does not grow longer.” Spinning and plucking feathers were strictly prohibited on the feast day. Lucys, women in white coats with candles in their hands, walked around homes to see if anyone was violating the ban. Their faces were covered with a mask made of wood and paper similar to a stork’s beak and it made an unpleasant clicking sound. Lucys banged on doors and announced: “I’m coming, coming to sip the night away.”