Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy St. Lucia Day!

Happy St. Lucia Day, December 13th. 

This day dedicated to the Sicilian martyr St. Lucy, and is traditionally celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy on December 13th, and represents the start of the holiday season. 
It is sometimes called the Festival Of Lights because the girls dress up in the community to give out food/drink or as a procession. Boys sometimes get involved, dressed in white (s0metimes red) with a cone hat and are called "Star boys". 
The Legend
Saint Lucia was Italian, a Sicilian martyr. So how did an Italian girl-turned-saint come to be honored in Sweden? There are various stories about Lucia with one basic storyline - her father dies, her mother is ill and is healed and they become Christians, that Lucia devotes herself to her faith and brings food and drink to Christians in hiding, and later she refuses to marry a pagan suitor that her father had arranged, she is sentenced and killed for the marriage refusal and acknowledgement of her Christianity beliefs, which was illegal. 

One of the most common story is as follows: Lucia was born of wealthy, noble parents about 283 AD in Syracuse, Sicily. Her father died when she was very young. When her mother fell ill and her death appeared imminent, the desperate Lucia took her on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Agatha, where miraculous healings were rumored to take place. An angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine and she refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. The mother was healed and both women became Christians. Together they pledged to use their wealth to help the sick and the poor.
Meanwhile, at the time, Sicily was under the rule of an emperor, and Christianity was forbidden in favor of pagan gods. But the devout young Sicilian virgin held to her faith and distributed food to the homeless and starving.
Many of those poor families sought refuge in caves, and at night, Lucia would make her way through the passageways with armfuls of bread, food and drink and supplies. She wore a crown of candles on her head to light the way, leaving her hands free to carry the food and supplies.
Lucia vowed to remain a virgin. But before her father died, he had arranged her marriage into a pagan family, a deal that Lucia had no intention of honoring. Her betrothed, however, demanded her hand as his bride. In a rage, the suitor took his revenge and reported Lucia's Christian faith to the Roman officials. On Dec. 13, 304 AD, Lucia was led before a court where she was sentenced. She was tortured, the guards dragged her away with great difficulty, poked out her eyes, tried to burn her at the stake per the court order and she was finally killed by the sword in the throat of one of the soldiers to stop her from talking to the crowd. 

Later she was venerated as a martyr and saint, and the day of her death, Dec. 13, was named Saint Lucia's Day.
As Christianity spread through Europe and into Scandinavia, though, the pagan celebration of Winter Solstice had to be replaced with a Christian celebration. In keeping with "timing is everything," winter solstice happened to fall on Dec. 13, so Saint Lucia was the natural replacement holiday choice.

The legend of this celebration was cemented when a terrible famine came to the Province of Varmland in Sweden during the middle ages. The poor village was starving to death. But on Dec. 13 of that year a large white ship was seen coming through the night across Lake Vanern, with a beautiful young woman standing on the bow. She was wearing a brilliant white gown, and a ring of light encircled her head. 
The country people boarded the ship to find that its cargo was food, clothing and supplies. They quickly unloaded it, and as they carried the last baskets away the people looked back to see that the ship was no longer there. 

Probably, it had been a much-needed supply ship from another province. But many felt in their hearts that it was a gift from Saint Lucia, and as the story spread, celebrations of Saint Lucia's Day began. Even after the calendar was reformed and winter solstice fell on a later day, the 13th of December remained the celebration of Saint Lucia.
Through the years, symbolism includes the bright shining candles, reminds us to be the light in the darkness. (Lucia/Lucy means "light"). And her offerings of food and drink remind us to be giving and kind to others. The white gown symbolizes the young woman's purity and the red reminds us of her martyrdom.
In families, the tradition is to have the oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns (or ginger cookies or croissants, etc.) to her parents (and siblings) while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. 
St Lucia buns/Lussekatter (Saffron Buns)

Song for Santa Lucia - Swedish Version

Natten går tunga fjät rund gård och stuva; kring jord, som sol förlät, skuggoma ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända Uus, Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Natten går stor och stum nu hörs dess vingar i alla tysta rum sus som av vingar.
Se, på vår tröskel står vitklädd med ljus i hår Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Mörkret ska flyta snart urjordens dalar så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
Dagen ska åter ny stiga ur rosig sky. Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

-from Maia Mittelstaedt 

Santa Lucia(English translation)
Night walks with heavy tread
round farm and byre, 
dark sun-forsaken earth
shadows attire.
Then in our winter gloom
candlelight fills the room:
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

 Silent and dark the night
now hear descending
rustle of wings in flight,
all darkness ending. 
Then she comes, dressed in white, 
head wreathed in candles bright: 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Shadows will soon be gone
from earth’s dark valley
wonderful words anon
us cheer and rally. 
Day will soon dawn anew
in skies of rosy hue: 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Source: Wikipedia, post-gazette.com/food, twigandtoadstool.blogspot.com
Photo credit: indiebeauty.com, Wikipedia, ashlemieux.blogspot.com, Wikipedia, twigandtoadstool.blogspot.com, Flag of Sicily -Wikipedia, americangirl.wikia.com, Flag of Sweden - Wikipedia, clipper - people.usd.edu, americangirl.wikia.com, post-gazette.com/food, visitsweden.com, blog.splendia.com

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