Saint Lucy (283 - 304 AD) was from the city of Siracusa in Sicily. Her feast day happens to be 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 their house 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.
On that special night, Santa Lucia 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 una corona di candele - a crown of candles - to illuminate her dark route. Santa Lucia brings light in darkness.
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.' In olden times, the feast day of Saint Lucy used to be the winter solstice before the calendar was changed. However, for children, it is said that it still seems to be the longest night whilst they wait impatiently 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:
Per Santa Lucia: una tazza di caffè, o latte e biscotti.
For Saint Lucy: a cup of coffee or milk and biscuits.
Per l'asino di Santa Lucia: acqua, farina o carote.
For Saint Lucy's donkey: some water, grain or carrots.
Per Castaldo: del pane.
For Castaldo: some bread.
On the morning of 13 December, children wake up to find goodies and gifts!
Grazie mille, Santa Lucia! Sei molto generosa!
At this time of year, 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, .....
Remember to be polite and not to be too greedy when requesting your gifts!