Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr, killed in Syracuse, Sicily, by Diolcletian. Her feast day in the West is 13 December . Her name comes from lux, lucis “light,” and she is the patron saint of those who are blind or have eye-trouble and interestingly, salesmen and writers. Her day is also memorialized in this poem by John Donne.
A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day
By John Donne
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; The sun is spent, and now his flasks Send forth light squibs, no constant rays; The world’s whole sap is sunk; The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk, Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh, Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be At the next world, that is, at the next spring; For I am every dead thing, In whom Love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations, and lean emptiness; He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good, Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have; I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood Have we two wept, and so Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow To be two chaoses, when we did show Care to aught else; and often absences Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her) Of the first nothing the elixir grown; Were I a man, that I were one I needs must know; I should prefer, If I were any beast, Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest, And love; all, all some properties invest; If I an ordinary nothing were, As shadow, a light and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew. You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun At this time to the Goat is run To fetch new lust, and give it you, Enjoy your summer all; Since she enjoys her long night’s festival, Let me prepare towards her, and let me call This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
In the legend surrounding her she had her eyes put out before being killed. In some versions of the tale God restores her sight. 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 many elements of Germanic paganism. It is a highlight of the Advent season. Traditionally the oldest daughter of any household dresses in a white robe with a red sash and a wreath of evergreens and 12 lighted candles upon her head. Assisted by any siblings she may have, she then serves coffee and a special St Lucia bun, Lussekatt in Swedish, to her parents and family. The Lussekatter or Lussebollar are spiced buns flavoured with saffron and other spices. The wreath of candles comes from the tradition that says St. Lucy would wear a wreath of candles on her head so she could see better in the catacombs, her arms full of supplies for poor Christians hiding from persecution in underground dark.
Donne’s poem gives us the roots of the customs of St Lucy’s Day. The saint of light’s day falls on the date of the Winter Solstice in the Old Julian Calendar; it begins with: “‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,”. Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia where it is believed a good celebration of Saint Lucy’s Day will help get people through the long winter days with enough light. St Lucys day is also celebrated in Italy and in Croatia on the Dalmation coast. She is he patron saint of Siracusa in Sicily and they have not one but two processions in her honor. They also eat a delicious wheat based pudding, cuccia, in honor of the day. In Hungary and Croatia, a popular tradition on Saint Lucy’s Day involves planting wheat grains that will eventually be several centimetres high on Christmas, representing the birth of Jesus.