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As legend states in the city of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, a child by the name of Lucia was born in the year 283 to a wealthy Sicilian family. As she grew older she choose to live her life like that of St. Agatha, who was a revered saint in a nearby town. With that she vowed to remain a virgin and give her possessions to the poor and needy.
Lucia, which means light, lived during the time where Christians were persecuted for their belief in God. This didn't prevent her from bringing food to the many Christians who hid in underground tunnels. To find her way she would wear a wreath with candles while carrying a tray of food. As custom would have it a suitor was chosen for her to wed, but marriage was not in her plans especially to a pagan. It was this same pagan who told authorities that Lucia was a Christian. Once they heard this they ruled that Lucia should be sent to a brothel, but this is where her will and belief in God took over. When it came time to take her she became impossible to move. Once this happened they opted to burn her at the stake, but the blazing fire did not harm her. Finally, she was struck down by the sword to the throat on December 13, 304.
Long after her death there was a great famine that spread throughout the land. In 1582 the prayers of the people of Syracuse were answered when a boat appeared in the harbor, on December 13, filled with grains. Instead of making flour from the grain they decided to boil it and eat it.
Like most saints, there is always more than one legend surrounding their life. Another legend states that she was blinded as a result of her faith, but God restored her sight. She was later persecuted for her belief in Christianity. No matter which legend you believe in, Lucia was a brave, caring and special woman whose popularity spread throughout the land. She is portrayed in many paintings holding a plate that has a pair of eyes on it. This is why she is the patron saint of the blind.
The Feast of Santa Lucia is celebrated differently throughout Italy. In Sicily they have a bonfire to commemorate her name and they abstain from eating bread and pasta. In northern Italy you will find that children leave carrots and hay for the donkey that brings Santa Lucia and her bag of gifts for the kids.
Even though Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse, Sicily she is probably more celebrated in the country of Sweden. The legend of Santa Lucia made its way to Sweden by missionaries and seamen who passed through Italy. Like the miracle of the boat in the city of Syracuse a similar fate happened to the people of Sweden. During a terrible famine a boat filled with food was spotted sailing across Lake Vannern. At the helm was a woman dressed in white with a glow above her head. It was believed that Santa Lucia had come to save them from the famine.
Tradition has it that the oldest daughter in the family will wear a white gown, a red sash and a crown of lights. She will then carry a tray of lussekatter, pepparkakor and coffee to her parents. If there are any boys in the family they may be dressed in the traditional starboy costume, which is a white gown with a cone shaped hat that contains gold stars. In addition to the family traditions there are many parades held throughout the country. They also have a Lucia competition, which has young women from all over trying to be crowned Santa Lucia.
Do you have any special memories or traditions that you and your family do on December 13? If yes, please join us on the forum and post your traditions. For your enjoyment I have included the lyrics to the popular song Santa Lucia.
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