One of the endearing and most popular feast days takes place on December 13, where many Italian towns celebrate Festa di Santa Lucia – The Feast of Saint Lucy. One of the biggest celebrations is in Sicily, where Saint Lucy was born. As a young girl, she vowed to live a chaste life in devotion to Christ. Her mother, however, arranged for her to marry. To make matters even worse, her suitor was a pagan. To dissuade her mom, Lucy prayed for a miracle at the tomb of St. Agatha. Her prayers were for a hemorrhage afflicting her mother to stop and when her prayers were answered, her mother agreed to leave aside the topic of marriage.
Lucy’s suitor had other plans and in a fit of anger publicly revealed that Lucy was a Christian. The Roman authorities went to arrest her with the intent of forcing her into a life of prostitution. However, they were unable to budge her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. She was then tortured by having her eyes torn out. They had also planned to torture the Saint with fire, but were unsuccessful. The fires would not stay lit. She was eventually murdered by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger.
Due to the first of the inhuman torture that St. Lucy endured, she became the patron saint to those with eye problems. She is depicted carrying her eyes, often on a plate, while tied to a team of oxen. Her relics were in Syracuse for hundreds of years, but were transferred first to Constantinople and later to Venice to be venerated at the Church of San Geremia. Rather tragically, her head was sent to King Louis XII of France and reposes in the Cathedral of Bourges.
Because her name Lucia means light, this too plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day. Throughout Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark the celebrations. However, the biggest celebration of the feast day takes place in Syracuse. To honor the city’s patron saint, the city holds a procession that carries the saint on a golden coffin to the Church of Santa Lucia. On December 20, there is another parade to return her to the crypt. There are celebrations all week and thousands of pilgrims come to the Sicilian city. The festivities end with a big fireworks display over the harbor.
The traditional dish for Festa di Santa Lucia is bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia. It is customarily eaten because, during a famine, the people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy who interceded by sending a ship laden with grain. Cuccia can be made so that it’s savory or sweet. The wheat is most often simply soaked overnight, rinsed, simmered in two inches of water covered for three hours or until tender. It is then served with milk and sugar, much like oatmeal is. Or it can be a bit more elaborate when prepared with the following recipe.
- 1 pound whole wheat
- 10 ounces fig honey or other flavorful honey
- dried orange peel, grated
- chopped walnuts
Soak the grain in cold water for 24 hours; rinse it and then boil it in water for three hours or until tender. Let it cool, then drain and return it to the fire with the honey, orange peel and walnuts.