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Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia -Sweden and Sicily Celebrate Light and Vision


'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks

(John Donne)

by Diana Viola with Preeti Pradhan

She is Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia, and her feast day is celebrated by the Swedes and by the Sicilians. To the Swedes, she represents light, to the Sicilians, she is the patron saint of vision, as well as the patron saint of the city of her birth, Syracuse. In Italian, the word 'lucia' means light.

Lucy was born in Siracusa, Sicily and is one of the virgin martyrs.  Legend has it that she was either beheaded or died when her neck was pierced by a sword during the reign of the Roman emperor, Diocletian. Legend holds that a famine ended on her feast day when ships, loaded with grain, sailed into the harbor.


According to the Julian calendar, December 13th was the shortest day of the year. The change to the Gregorian calendar altered the date to December 21st, but did not change Lucy's feast day celebration, and she is forever associated with lengthening days and more sunlight.

In Sweden, December 13th opens the Christmas celebration. In ancient Sweden, the word "Lussi" was written on fences, doors, walls. This graffiti was used to tell the demons of winter that their reign was over and longer days were returning. Traditionally, a daughter in each Swedish family dresses in a white dress with red sash, and wears on her head an evergreen wreath with lighted candles. She would bring hot coffee and saffron buns called lussekatter (Lucia buns) to wake her family. The tradition continues, though with electric candles, not flame.

Lussekater in Sweden: "When you smell saffron coming from a warm baking bread in the oven, you know it's its-Christmastime in Sweden. But even if you are not in Sweden, you can make Lussekater. St, Kucia Day is meant to caste away the darkness by wearing candles on one's head. Yes, true! Here is a recipe as the Swedish make them. swedish lussekater The Swedes use quark is a type of curded cheese and can be found in your grocery store. It adds the moistness and fluff to the buns. It must be called quark to be an adequate cheese for this recipe (ones that just say curd cheese tend to change the tast quite a bit in my opinion at least)." from Lost in Stockholm

Sicilians celebrate Saint Lucy with cuccia, a special dish made of wheat berries, chocolate, sugar and milk. Though she is the patron saint of vision, she is equally revered for ending a famine. Each family makes their own version of cuccia and the children bring bowls of it to their neighbors as gifts. This tradition came with the Sicilian immigrants who populated America. You can read a contemporary account of this: helen viola

Recipes for St. Lucia or St. Lucy's Day:

Many thanks to Preeti Pradhan for sharing her experience in Sweden with us.  Please check her blog lost in Stockholm to learn more. 

If you would like to purchase quark (kesella) in the US, please contact us:  in mamas kitchen

Poem: "A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy' Day" by John Donne




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Diana Serbe is the editor of In Mamas Kitchen. Click to meet her on the about us page.