Advent Calendar for Grown-ups
DECEMBER 13 St. Lucy’s Day
Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr, killed in Syracuse, Sicily, by Diocletian for refusing to submit to her heathen husband, and is now venerated as a saint by Christians around the World.
Her feast day in the West is 13 December (to-day!); with a name derived from lux, lucis “light,” she is the patron saint of those who are blind or have eye-trouble (as well as, bizarrely, salesmen, writers and those with throat infections). In the legend surrounding her she had her eyes put out before being killed. In some versions of the tale God restores her sight. She is shown here on the right with two of her traditional symbols or attributes—the palm-frond of Martyrdom and her own eyes upon a salver or cake-stand!
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.
December 13 was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Old Julian Calendar (replaced by to-day’s Gregorian Calendar in Britain in 1752, where Wednesday, 2 September was immediately followed by Thursday, 14 September—a change that brought considerable consternation and rioting at the time). This timing, and her name meaning light, is a factor in the particular devotion to St. Lucy in Scandinavian countries, where young girls dress as the saint in honor of the feast. Traditionally the oldest daughter of any household will dress up 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 (a Lussekatt in Swedish) to her parents and family. The Lussekatter or Lussebollar are spiced buns flavoured with saffron and other spices and traditionally presented in the form shown in the image, an inverted S with two raisins a-top (perhaps representing St Lucy’s plucked out eyes!?).
The Metaphysical Poet, and Dean of St. Paul’s cathedral, John Donne wrote his poem “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie’s Day, being the shortest day” in 1627. The poem begins with: “‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,” and expresses, in a mourning piece, the withdrawal of the world-spirit into sterility and darkness, where “The world’s whole sap is sunk.” A good day for coffee and buns, in other words!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my Scandinavian friends (plus any Lucies) a ‘God Jul!’.
From Paul Bommer: Illustration, design & Print-making. Used by permission.