13th December, St Lucy’s Day
Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who was killed in Syracuse, Sicily, by Diocletian for refusing to submit to her heathen husband. She is now venerated as a saint by Christians around the world and her feast day is 13th December. With a name derived from lux, lucis – meaning “light” - she is the patron saint of those who are blind or have eye-trouble (as well as, bizarrely, salesmen, writers and those with throat infections).
In the legend, she had her eyes put out before being killed and, in some versions of the tale, God restores her sight. She is shown on the right with two of her symbols - the palm-frond of Martyrdom and her own eyes upon a salver or cake-stand!
Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy’s Day celebrations that retain elements of germanic paganism. December 13th was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar (replaced by today’s Gregorian Calendar in Britain in 1752, when Wednesday, 2nd September was immediately followed by Thursday, 14th September – a change that brought consternation and rioting). This timing and her name meaning light, are factors in the particular devotion to St. Lucy performed in Scandinavian countries where young girls dress as the saint in honour of her feast.
Traditionally, the oldest daughter of any household will wear a white robe with a red sash and a wreath of evergreens and twelve lighted candles upon her head. Assisted by any siblings, she serves coffee and a special St Lucia bun (a Lussekatt in Swedish) to her parents and family. The Lussekatter or Lussebollar are spiced buns flavoured with saffron and other spices, customarily presented in the form shown in my drawing, an inverted “S” with two raisins a-top – perhaps representing St Lucy’s plucked out eyes?
The metaphysical poet and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne, wrote “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie’s Day, being the shortest day” in 1627. The poem begins - “Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,” describing the describing into sterility and darkness at this time when “The world’s whole sap is sunk.” A good day for coffee and buns, in other words!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my Scandinavian friends (plus any Lucies) a “God Jul!”
Illustration copyright © Paul Bommer