Santa Lucia: An Italian Christmas Tradition

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Saint Lucy (283 - 304 AD) was from the city of Siracusa in Sicily. Her feast day is during the period of Advent: on the 13 December. Her name means 'light'. In Italian, luce = light. She is the protector of eyesight, opticians and people who are blind.

In many parts of Italy, Santa Lucia is celebrated on her feast day with processions, songs and Christmas markets. However, in areas of northern Italy she brings gifts for children, rather like Father Christmas. Children write a letter to the saint to tell her that they have been well-behaved and detailing the gifts they would like to receive. They go to bed early and then, during the night of 12 /13 December, Santa Lucia secretly enters the houses whilst everyone sleeps. Nobody is allowed to stay awake because if they happen to see Santa Lucia during her visit, she will throw some ash to make the onlooker close their eyes. She travels in a gift-laden carriage pulled by a donkey and accompanied by an assistant called Castaldo. She is often depicted on her journey wearing a crown of candles to illuminate the dark night.

There is a saying: La notte di Santa Lucia è la più lunga che ci sia. This means: 'The night of Saint Lucy is the longest night.' It used to be the winter solstice before the calendar changed. However, for children, it seems the longest night whilst waiting for their presents.

Before going to bed on 12 December, Italian children make sure to leave some refreshments for the saint when she visits their house. They leave items on their window sill such as a cup of coffee or milk and biscuits for Santa Lucia, some water, grain or carrots for the donkey and some bread for Castaldo. In the morning, children wake up to find goodies and gifts! Grazie mille, Santa Lucia! Traditional shortbread biscuits known as i frollini di Santa Lucia are prepared in celebration.

If you decide to write una letterina to Saint Lucy, it should begin: Cara Santa Lucia, ..... and remember not to be too greedy when requesting your gifts! Buone feste! Read more about Christmas in Italy.

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