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December 13: Saint Lucia’s Day in Italy

On December 13, Italy and other countries such as Sweden and Norway celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day (Italian: Santa Lucia). Lucia is a Sicilian martyr from Syracuse. What is her story? What happens in Italy on this day? What is the typical food? In this post we will tell you more about Saint Lucia’s Day.

The story of Santa Lucia

statua di santa lucia siracusa - December 13: Saint Lucia's Day in Italy

December 13 is the day of Saint Lucia (Italian: Santa Lucia). Lucia is a Sicilian martyr, from Syracuse, and was killed during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian in 304. Lucia means “the shining one,” from the Latin lux (light), and she is considered the saint of eyes, sight and light

Lucia was the daughter of a wealthy Roman citizen of Syracuse. When her mother became seriously ill, Lucia went with her to the tomb of St. Agatha in Catania and there her mother was healed. Lucia decided to dedicate her life to God and spend it as a virgin. She also donated the entire family fortune to the needy. After she refused to marry a pagan, he denounced her to the Roman authorities and accused her of professing the Christian faith. 

According to legend, they threatened to take her to a brothel if she did not recant, but when she refused, not even fifty oxen to which she was tied could move her. Then they piled up wood for a pyre to burn her. On the pyre she said that her death would not frighten the other Christians but would grieve the unbelievers. One of the soldiers thrust a spear into her throat to stop these incantations, but to no avail. Another legend says that her eyes were gouged out, so she is considered the saint of the eyes.

"Santa Lucia, il giorno più corto che ci sia"

That Santa Lucia falls on December 13 is no coincidence: before the Gregorian calendar, December 13 was the shortest day of the year.

“Santa Lucia, il giorno più corto che ci sia” (Saint Lucia, the shortest day there is) is still said today, even though according to today’s calendar December 21 is the shortest day of the year. And so Saint Lucia is the light-bringer who heralds the days that are getting longer again. 

Santa Lucia in Sicily

santa lucia 730x438 1 - December 13: Saint Lucia's Day in Italy

Saint Lucia is celebrated especially in Sicily. The biggest celebrations take place in Syracuse, her hometown. On the morning of December 13, the feast opens with the firing of 13 volley shots.

In the afternoon, the believers take part in the procession that follows the statue of the saint, carried on the shoulders of 48 men wearing green caps, and the relics. The procession, which starts from the Cathedral in Piazza Duomo, crosses Ortigia, the historical heart of the city, and arrives at the Basilica of Santa Lucia, exactly on the spot where she suffered martyrdom. The statue returns to the cathedral with a second procession after 7 days.

In many places, after the evening mass, people gather in front of the church square to watch the “Vampata di Santa Lucia“, a big fire.

Santa Lucia in Northern Italy

Santa Lucia asino - December 13: Saint Lucia's Day in Italy

The night of Santa Lucia is also a magical night in some northern Italian towns. The children write a letter to the woman a week before December 13, listing the gifts they would like to receive at Santa Lucia. Another tradition is that on the evening of December 12, the children prepare a snack for the saint, who rides on her donkey, followed by her companion named Castaldo. The children prepare gifts for all three: a cup of milk and coffee with some cookies for Santa Lucia, carrots for the donkey and a piece of bread for Castaldo.

Typical food for Santa Lucia

piatti santa lucia cuccìa - December 13: Saint Lucia's Day in Italy

There are several dishes and sweets typical of December 13. A specialty typical of Palermo and Syracuse is the cuccìa: a sweet made with boiled wheat and sheep ricotta or chocolate milk cream. Inside there are candied pumpkin, orange peel, chocolate pieces and cinnamon. 

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