According to the Julian
calendar, the winter solstice began on December 13th. It was the shortest
day of the year.
The pagans knew what to do during dark Decembers: to insure the suns
renewal, they made offerings, decorated trees, and lit fires, symbolic gestures
that begged the light to return. A sacred figure Lucina, the Sabine goddess
of light, was worshipped on the darkest day. In her role as midwife, Juno-Lucina
was the deity who brought the miraculous sun-child into the light at Yule/
Jul [or wheel].
The party didnt stop there. By the third century, December 25 was
established as the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" -- part of a festive
fortnight of wild Roman celebrations honoring Saturn, also known as Saturnalia.
By the fourth century, these Roman solar feast days were Christianized.
No religion can succeed without a full holiday schedule. The easiest way
to create Catholic holy days was to reform or renovate pagan practices.
Coincidentally, Lucio, a wealthy father in Syracuse (then the capital of
Sicily) had a chaste teenage daughter Lucia during the reign of the Roman
emperor Diocletian, the height of the Christian persecution. Spurning marriage,
sex, and worldly goods, Lucia carried food to rebels hiding in the catacombs.
An angry suitor reported her, and the young virgin was put to death. After
her martyrdom on December 13, 304 A.D., because of various traditions associating
her name with light, Lucia came to be thought of as the patron of sight and
the harvest. Medieval artists depicted her carrying a sheaf of wheat and
a dish containing little cakes, mistaken later for her eyes.
Although the Catholic Church attempted to suppress any feminine aspect of
the divine principle, this young Sicilian virgin-martyr was one of the earliest
Christian saints to achieve popularity, having a widespread following before
the 5th century. Perhaps because missionaries repeated tales about her martyrdom
and chastity, Santa Lucias cult spread to Scandinavia, the West Indies,
and elsewhere. Miracles were ascribed to her. Legends told of a famine, when
Saint Lucys name was invoked in prayer -- and then a ship appeared,
laden with golden wheat.
Later on, the early Church made Lucy a saint. Caravaggio and others painted
her. Songs and poems were composed in her honor. The Great Caruso sang
Santa Lucia, a Neapolitan barcarole. His admirer, Mario Lanza
recorded this folksong, too. Lanzas lifelong fan, Elvis Presley, also
Not many teenage martyrs have their own theme songs as well as popular desserts
prepared on their on their feast day.
Traditionally, on December 13th, "Cuccia" is served instead of bread to
commemorate the saint who brought wheat to the starving Sicilians, and who
watches over those with eye disease. [The Sicilian word "Cuccia" comes from
the Arabic kiskiya (earthenware or grain).]
[Note: The winter solstice now falls on December 21, with the change to the
Gregorian calendar in the 1300s.]
To visit Saint Lucy and her church in Sicily, contact the Tourist Board of
Syracuse (AAPIT Syracuse):
Via San Sebastiano, 43 - 96100 Syracuse; Tel: (0039) 0931 - 481200; Fax:
(0039) 0931 - 67803
Information Desk: Via San Sebastiano, 47 - 96100 Syracuse; Tel. (0039) 931
Written by: LindaAnn Loschiavo, freelannce writer,
and publisher of NonStop NY Web Site