These notes come from two websites: American Catholic and The Catholic Company:
“Lucia means “light” and so her feast day is celebrated with candles, torch lights, and even bonfires. Falling during the Advent season—and thus a long, dark winter—there are many beautiful traditions associating this saint with the meaning of her name, the story of her life, and her glorious position in heaven.”
“In some Catholic cultures it’s common to have a Mass procession on St. Lucy’s feast day with young girls carrying candles, with the lead girl wearing a wreath of lights . Tradition holds that St. Lucy would wear a wreath of candles on her head so she could see better as she served the poor Christians hiding from persecution in the dark underground catacombs of Rome.
Many countries have special St. Lucy’s day traditions, but perhaps the most well-known are the ones of Italian and Scandinavian origin. According to this resource, in Sweden,
“the oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on St. Lucy’s Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by ‘Star Boys,’ her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. ‘St. Lucy’ will go around her house and wake up her family to serve them special St. Lucy Day foods” which were usually baked sweets.”
The other part of the story of Saint Lucy is that she was an early Christian martyr, from Syracuse in Sicily. Many legends abound about her martyrdom. The most prevailing one is that the torturers put out her eyes before they killed her. Thus, she is the patron of persons with eye diseases. So she is a friend of mine!
portrait of a lady as St. Lucy, by Giovanni Boltraffio
Painters over the years have let their imaginations run wild over this grisly martyrdom, usually including her extracted eyeballs in paintings of Saint Lucy:
Here is Incres’ version:
and one by Domenico Beccafumi:
and this one, from the Griffony polyptych, National Gallery , DC:
As a poet, I am awed by John Donne’s long and mysterious poem:
A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day
By John Donne
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.