Celebrating Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia
That would be me with 7 lit candles on my head! I was aiming for saintly and ethereal….

Imagine this. It’s very cold, dark, and all around you things are in such a depressing state of mind that you’re ready to climb the walls out of sheer madness. Hej, top up my mug of glögg, won’t you? No wonder the Swedes were more than obliged to welcome and adopt a christian saint into their culture! The ‘luc’ in Lucia comes from the Latin lux, or light, and during those bone-chilling nordic winter nights – brrrrrrr – the anticipation of light was surely something to look forward to.

December 13th is the feast day of Santa Lucia and according to those outdated calenders several millennia ago, was the longest night of the year (the winter solstice). Celebrated with much festivity in Sweden, and on a reverent scale in Syracruse, Sicily (where Lucia was born), Saint Lucy’s Day is for kids. Like San Nicolò of last week, then again on Christmas, and finally La Befana on the eve of the Epiphany, good boys and girls get all the gifts. In the province of Milan where MotH grew up (that’s Man Of The House if you just tuned in), la Arriva, Notte, or Festa di Santa Lucia was not a tradition. However, in pocket areas of Bergamo, Brescia, Parma, Piacenza, and Alessandria provinces, just to name a few, the patron saint of the blind is alive and well. Arriving on the scene with her trusted donkey, she brings sweet treats for children.

Celebrating Santa Lucia

lussebulleLast night in Milan on the eve of Santa Lucia, a swedish chorus sang in one of the city’s main squares. Lussebulle (saffron rolls), glögg, and pepparkakor (ginger thins) can be bought at IKEA, and if you are feeling really crafty, you can MacGyver your own crown of candles. Warning: melted wax on hair. So not fun!

In Italy, a host of celebrations begin on the the evening before and on the day (13th) itself, and the following are just two I took note of. We’re observing the date italo-swedish style with saffron buns, mulled wine, smoked salmon, cream cheese and black bread, and a simple dish of creamy radicchio risotto (red leaf chicory). We might even get a few laughs out of The Ref (check the candle-wreaths in the last photo).

Arriva Santa Lucia
In Boario Terme (Brescia) – Horse drawn carriage rides, tastings, xmas market and more in the Terme’s park.

Festa di Santa Lucia
In San Polo di Torrile (Parma) – Santa Lucia arrives bearing gifts. A xmas market, a tasting of Tortél Dols (typical pasta of the area), bonfire, vin brulè and music on Saturday, the 14th.

Candle-lit dinner scene on the film The Ref.


9 thoughts on “Celebrating Santa Lucia

  1. carlae

    I would love to experience those Italian traditions someday soon. In the meantime we’ll settle for the 53rd annual Waimea parade. It was delightful and the evening was warm. We had house guests and they LOVED it. We then drove to Kawaihae and had dinner at Plantation, quite yummy!


    1. Rowena Post author

      And I bet you were in tshirt, shorts and slippers! If it didn’t mean 24 hours in transit and the “kids” in a sad, dark doggie kennel, we would’ve flown over.


  2. Anonymous

    I am glad that these traditions are kept alive in Italy, even if they are only in small pockets here and there. We have learned from our friends about the many customs, foods, planting and harvesting schedules (even when to make nocino:-) ) surrounding the various feast days. What a nice picture. Imagine adding some plumeria, ti leaves and red hibiscus to it:-) (sorry, I’m just dreaming about the warm and sunny islands; emphasis on the warm……)


    1. Rowena Post author

      The plumeria and ti leaves….I wish! That way it could be an italo-swedawaiian sort of thing. Also, that is so great about you being able to learn italian customs from friends. I struggle to find all of these little, less talked about things — most of the time I happen upon them by chance.


      1. Anonymous

        I know that our Italian friends are very provincial. They even admit it themselves (ho ragione?) 🙂 . Many of our friends from the north have never been to the south and visa versa, nor have they heard about one another’s customs, even though it has been a united Italy for some time now 🙂 Italy is a beautiful country. Thank you for your blog. I have forwarded the the postings about the various sagre that you have attended to my Italian friends in Italy. Fortunately, in the San Francisco Bay Area, many Italian families emigrated here from all over Italy in California’s history, much to the benefit of many. These families have been gracious enough to share with us. There is even a non-profit institute promoting Italian language and culture based in San Francisco http://www.italingua.com/ 🙂


      2. Rowena Post author

        Person-to-person interaction is perhaps the best way to learn another language (as I have experienced from marrying an italian) so thank you for sharing the link. I’ve used textbooks, online language lessons, even a free school for foreigners here, but I find that for myself, I pick up much faster when I watch tv, listen to the radio, read EVERYTHING, from news articles to sagra posters on a wall (haha!).

        I have this theory that being “provincial” could be for the fact that back then, there was no internet or an instant way to share cultures (imagine if they had Twitter!). These days I can visit an italian chat room where they are discussing a particular subject, food for exmaple, and there are people from all over Italy putting in 2 cents worth on their favorite regional dish. I’m delighted that the blog is a small source of information for you and for everyone who happens to stop by. 🙂


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