Songs of the Season ~ Sankta Lucia

The name of the young woman in this contemporary icon — Saint Lucy –is derived from the Latin word for light (lux), a fact which helps to explain how she became embedded into cultural traditions and Christmas celebrations from Italy to Sweden and beyond.

Born in Syracuse, Sicily in 283 AD, Lucy was martyred at the age of twenty after refusing to marry a pagan nobleman. According to legend, she was sentenced to a life of prostitution, but when guards arrived to take her away, she remained frozen in place and impossible to move. More torture took place before her death, including the removal of her eyes; some icons show her holding those eyes on a golden platter.

One of the earliest Christian martyrs to achieve popularity, Lucy became the patron saint of her city of birth, but her fame spread far beyond Syracuse. In Naples, along the waterfront district known as Borgo Santa Lucia, Neapolitan gondoliers sang a traditional song associated with her as they plied their boats, or barcas, across the water.

In 1849, Teodoro Cottrau (1827-1879) translated that song, “Santa Lucia,” from Neapolitan into Italian, publishing it as a barcarola, or boat song, and making it the first Neapolitan song to be given Italian lyrics.

A celebration of the Borgo Santa Lucia, the song portrays a gondolier inviting his customers to take a turn in his little boat, his barchetta, while they enjoy the beauty of an evening on the sea. Enrico Caruso’s recording of the song may be one of the most well-known, but this performance by Beniamino Gigli seemed lighter and more pleasing to me.

Sul mare luccia l’astro d’argento,
Placida è l’onda, prospero è il vento
Venite all’agile barchetta mia…
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Con questo zeffiro, così soave
Oh! Com’è bello star su la nave!
Su passaggieri, venite via!
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
O dolce Napoli, o suol beato,
Ove sorridere volle il creato
Tu sei l’impero dell’armonia!
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Upon this brilliant sea, a star of silver,
Across the gentle waves, the wind is sweeping.
Upon this brilliant sea, a star of silver,
Across the gentle waves, the wind is sweeping.
Come help my little boat sail swiftly to the shore,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Come help my little boat sail swiftly to the shore,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Full sail with breezes fair, so gentle are they,
Oh, how this ship can feel, so fine beneath me,
Full sail with breezes fair, so gentle are they,
Oh, how this ship can feel, so fine beneath me,
All passengers aboard, come sail the sea with me,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
All passengers aboard, come sail the sea with me,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
Oh, my sweet Napoli, Oh, blessed soil,
Where nature smiles upon all of creation,
Oh, my sweet Napoli, Oh, blessed soil,
Where nature smiles upon all of creation,
You are the harmony, you are the empire,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
You are the harmony, you are the empire,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

As with most legends surrounding the life and death of St. Lucy, no certainty exists when it comes to her incorporation into Swedish life. During the 10th century, her feast day — December 13 — spread from France to Germany and England. She appeared on the Swedish liturgical calendar as early as 1470, when Sweden still was a Catholic country, and she survived the Reformation under King Gustav Vasa in the 16th century.

Still, her celebrations weren’t purely Christian. As with other winter solstice traditions, there were clear references to the dualities of life — darkness and light, cold and warmth — as well as to older, even darker traditions.

In northern Sweden, a belief held sway that Lucia was Adam’s first wife; that she consorted with Lucifer; and that their descendants spent their time in a very cold, very dark underworld. Even today’s traditional festive treat, the Lucia buns, or lussekatter, were in the old days called djävulskatter, or the devil’s cat; their shape was intended to represent a curled-up cat with raisin eyes.

Lucia Night, the evening before her feast, was considered a dangerous time: filled with supernatural beings and animals that could speak. The braver and bolder youngsters would dress as Lucia figures (lussegubbar), then wander from house to house singing songs and begging for food and schnapps.

Things began to take a turn with the first recorded appearance of a white-clad Swedish Lucia in 1764. By the 1880s, the eldest daughter in a household might serve coffee and lussekatter to others in the household. In the early 1900s, schools and local associations began promoting Sankta Lucia; as they did, lussegubbars faded away and singing processions became a more acceptable form of celebration than the youthful carousing of the past. In 1919, Sigrid Elmblad published lyrics to Santa Lucia in Swedish, using Teodoro Cottrau’s music, and Sankta Lucia was born.

Stockholm established its first Lucia celebration in 1927, paying tribute to Saint Lucy by placing a crown of fresh greens and lighted candles on the head of the girl chosen to represent Lucia. According to yet another legend, Saint Lucy had taken food to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs while wearing candles to light her way, leaving her hands free to carry as much food as possible.

In today’s homes, the eldest daughter may forgo white robes and candlelit wreaths, but she still rises before the rest of the family to serve them lussekatter and coffee, as well as gingersnaps and mulled wine (glögg). In  villages and towns across Sweden — and in Swedish communities around the world — there are Lucia processions, concerts, and celebrations to signify the beginning of the Christmas season.

Even though my own grandparents arrived in this country from Sweden well before the formalization of Lucia festivities, they knew and honored the traditions. My grandmother baked lussekatter; they taught me the song; and once — just once! — I was allowed to wear a candlelit wreath in my hair.

In frigid, snow-deep darkness, my parents drove me the thirty miles to my grandparents’ home. We let ourselves in, arranged the lussekatter on a plate, and poured coffee from a thermos. Then, candles lighted and excitement high, we sang my grandparents awake.

Natten går tunga fjät runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord som sol förlät, skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Natten var stor och stum. Nu hör, det svingar,
i alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står vitkläd med ljus i hår,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Mörkret skall flykta snart ur jordens dalar.”
Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter gry, stiga ur rosig sky,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.
Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Comments always are welcome.

83 thoughts on “Songs of the Season ~ Sankta Lucia

  1. This was a fun read! We also commemorate St Lucy in the Orthodox Church, and I have been to St. Lucia festivals in years past, held by a neighboring parish. More recently, I became sponsor to a convert who took the patronal name of Lucy, so my interest has amplified!

    Thank you for giving us not one but two quite distinct musical expressions of honor to the saint.

    1. I had wondered in passing if St. Lucy was honored in your tradition, and now I know. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and that it had somewhat deeper meaning for you thanks to your new commitments. I’ve been wanting to post the song and some of the history for several years, but I always remembered long after the Feast Day had passed. I barely made it this year, but make it I did. Now, it’s time to make some of my grandmother’s cookies!

  2. As a teenager I went on my first road trip adventure with my best friend. We got as far as Saint Lucie, Florida. Florida is a mighty long way from Italy or Sweden but I learned this small Florida town was named by the Spaniards. It was when they began building a fort on Dec.13, the feast day of the Roman Catholic Saint Lucia. I love your post with the beautiful songs.

    1. I’ve never been to that part of Florida, but I have friends who’ve been to both St. Lucie and Port St. Lucie, and it never occurred to me that there could be a connection with Saint Lucy. It certainly makes sense — and now I’ll probably never forget when the building of St. Lucie’s fort began. Thanks for the interesting tidbit, Dor! And I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Both of the songs are beautiful.

    1. This one was especially fun to write about, since it gave me a chance to settle down and finally figure out how an Italian song ended up being sung in Swedish by my grandparents. I hadn’t heard about some of those older traditions involving Lucifer, either. There’s always a story behind the story, isn’t there?

    1. They were pleased with the surprise visit, and even more surprised that my parents had arranged for me to be late for school that day. We put out the candles, put on a pot of good coffee, and mostly sat around and smiled at one another. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my young life.

  3. Never would I have expected to hear Santa Lucia in Swedish. I wonder if they ever play it in Ikea stores at this time of year. You’re right that Beniamino Gigli (whose last name means ‘lilies’) had a lighter voice than tenors like Caruso. As I recall, Pavarotti was fond of Gigli’s way of singing.

    1. It appears that Ikea goes all out for Santa Lucia. It makes sense that they would; Santa Lucia and Midsummer are the biggest celebrations of the year in Sweden. I’d not thought about it before, but one common element is wreath-wearing: a wreath of candles and boughs in winter, and wreaths of flowers — for everyone — at midsummer.

      I spent some time listening to other selections from Gigli this afternoon, and enjoyed it. It was fun listening to others talk about him, too: like this bit of reminiscence from Pavarotti.

  4. I wonder why Paul Hollywood didn’t tell us these things about the good saint when he made these rolls. He called them cats. Mary Berry couldn’t see a cat no matter how he tried to convince her that it was there, all curled up and eyeballing her. Mary ate one and declared it “Absolutely delicious.”

    I like the anecdotes.

    1. I’ll confess that I had no idea who Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry might be, but now I’m caught up. I looked up his recipe, and approve; some people try to pass off saffron-free rolls as lussekatter, but that just isn’t right. They are delicious, although cardamom seed buns come close.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tales, and thanks for expanding my knowledge of celebrity chefs!

      1. LOL! Cooking has taken on a whole other life in recent years. The chemistry and artistry of it is fascinates me. I enjoy reading old family cookbooks, watching chefs, especially the old Julia shows on PBS. Food is a universal language we all speak, don’t you think? I made my own sausage for sausage rolls, then recently ordered meat pies, a loaf of (shudder) white bread, and a bottle of British ketchup from an American British food shop. Never again.
        My most recent cookbook arrived two days ago; there’s a recipe for St. Lucia buns. Turns out they are popular in the South. I want to try my hand at them but we are a family of two and can never eat half of what I bake. Is a good thing there’s a growing boy just across the fence.

        I learn more than you might imagine from your posts. LOL. You identify many things that stump me and have taught me more about Texas than I ever learned in classrooms. Remember Dewey Compton? You are my Dewey. Am often embarrassed to find forgotten dried bits tucked inside a book–my way to press bits of flora, although I do have a small press for that purpose. I might see a plant you’re sharing and I remember tucking something that looks like it in some book, then I’m off to search. The windowsill above the kitchen sink is covered with specimens–bits of grasses, flowers, leaves . . .
        I think chefs have renewed interest in cooking because climate change is affecting what’s available to put on the table. More Americans are foraging now.
        I look forward to buying your book some day. (hint) :) Thanks!

        Checking out cardamom seed buns. What? You bake too???

        1. Dewey Compton! I sure enough remember him, and with a great deal of affection. There’s a section about him in this old Texas Monthly story. It’s about midway down. One of the things I enjoy about traveling through places like Oklahoma and the nether regions of Texas is the local programming on radio. Need a seat for your old combine? Tune in to the farm and ranch swap shop show, and they’ll fix you right up!

          Speaking of foraging, have you come across this site? You can read more about Mark (aka Meriwether) here. I do my foraging at HEB, but I’ve heard him speak, and use his site for reference now and then. He’s a trustworthy source.

          As for baking: I sure do. In fact, years and years ago, my very first post on my first blog (over at The Weather Underground, when they had a kind of blog section) was about my pecan pie, which I swear is the best in the world — even though it hasn’t a drop of corn syrup.

  5. Thank you for this lovely exploration of the season of Sankta Lucia. This tidbit about the lussekatter was a treat for me (almost as good as tasting the lussekatter might be) : “their shape was intended to represent a curled-up cat with raisin eyes.”

    1. Every culture has their holiday foods, and the Swedish breads and pastries are second to none. There are other delicacies I enjoy and can obtain fairly easily, like pickled herring and lingonberries, and some I can make in my own kitchen. A few favorites I wouldn’t want to make because of the labor involved, but the baking is easy, and the results taste like ‘home.’

        1. For me, the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season is the moment I suddenly think to myself, “I’ve got to add pickled herring to the shopping list.” It has to be in wine sauce, too. The cream sauce apparently pleases some people, but it’s not my preference.

    1. I remember seeing a candlelit tree at my grandparents’ home when I was very, very young, but that only happened once before the adults reasonably came to the conclusion that a child and candles didn’t mix. From what I’ve been told, their candles were allowed to burn for only a few minutes anyway, before being extinguished; it was the act of lighting them that was important.

      As for that candle-bearing wreath, it was great fun. Still, getting candle wax out of hair isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and practicality came into play there, too. In the following years, just sharing lussekatter and other treats was enough.

    1. Wait until midsummer, when I feature the flower-decked pole and the little frog dance. This is all very sedate and elegant, but Swedes know how to frolic in summer, too!

  6. How interesting. It has featured as one of my most favored songs which I still hoarsely hum frequently. It seems to ask questions at first which then get answered in the next musical line and there is nothing more satisfying than getting answers to questions, especially in music. It is also beautifully triste, and if you look at the Lucia images with her eyes held on a plate it all somehow falls into place.

    Having lived in the Swedish speaking part of Finland and some months in magic Napoli this great post wove its magic once again.

    Thank you, Linda.

    1. You’re one of the few people I know — perhaps the only person I know — who has lived in Napoli and an area with Swedish language and traditions. It’s delightful that one song can touch on both cultures, and indeed convey a bit of them. Depending on which stories you believe, poor, immovable Lucy survived immolation as well, and finally met her end with a swordstroke. How much is truth is hard to say, but in the end it’s Lucy who’s most remembered, and not Diocletian: and of course it’s Lucy who gave rise to these wonderful songs.

  7. Hi Linda,
    what an informative post about Santa Lucia.
    When I was a child in Sweden we celebrated it. I didn’t know that it is celebrated outside Sweden as well. For me it was always typical Swedish.
    Thanks for sharing
    Klausbernd

    1. A very active Swedish Club in Houston selects a Lucia each year for their celebrations, and has done so since 1987. Many of the people in the club have connections to Barkeryd, Sweden: a small parish near Nässjö in Småland. Half of its population emigrated to Texas between 1836 and 1927, with their passage paid for about two years’ work. After the debt was paid, they were free to live and work for themselves. In their honor, the people of Barkeryd were proclaimed honorary citizens of Texas on May 27, 1975 by Governor Dolph Briscoe, and the ties remain deep.

      The most interesting Swedish celebrations I’ve seen were deep in the Liberian bush, at LAMCO, the compound of the Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company (iron ore) in Liberia’s Nimba range. Founded in 1955 by American and Swedish investors, it was an interesting place, and seeing the blond Swedish children and the black Liberian children playing and dancing together was a delightful sight.

      1. Dear Linda,
        I know Nässjö, from long ago when I was a child living near Vaxjö.
        Here in Norfolk we have no Santa Lucia tradition we know of although quite a lot of Scandinavians live here. In Norfolk people are proudly maintaining the Viking traditions with big Viking festivals with burning a boat, Yul bonfires and holly decorations, jumping the bonfire. Norfolk was a Viking stronghold in the early middle ages. The Vikings made this area prosperous because of trading and founding trading centres.
        That’s amazing this connection of the Swedish with Texas.
        Thanks for your infos
        The Fab Four of Cley
        :-) :-) :-) :-)

  8. As a young person I played this on my violin, a favourite tune of my father, who was also a fan of Caruso. I had absolutely no idea of the story behind it so thank you very much Linda.

    1. How wonderful that you know and love the song. I’m pleased that I could offer a little background for you. There are several Swedish adaptations of the words. In some cases, they differ in order to make the Swedish version more singable. When I was chosing the Italian version of the song for this post, I took the time to listen to some of the original recordings. I still remember those heavy 78s, with the static and scratchiness. Still, there’s something about them that digital recording can’t match. I can’t explain it, but I can hear it.

  9. A few days ago, my wife and I enjoyed watching Rick Steves’ European Christmas again. His journey through a selection of European countries also took us to Sweden, where children sang Santa Lucia. Now you will understand my joy to find such thoroughly researched information on the origin of this touching song and how it found its way to your ancestral home country. Thank you for this wonderful post, Linda! Have a blessed Christmas Season!

    1. Isn’t it fun to learn the history behind some of these oh-so-familiar songs? When I first heard “Santa Lucia” sung in Italian, I thought it had been stolen from the Swedes; I had the history reversed! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Peter. I hope it enriched these days before Christmas for you.

  10. I simply melted emotionally at the description of traveling to your grandparent’s home and singing them awake, presenting the lussekatter and coffee. What a beautiful and thoughtful gesture. It made me think of the most memorable gift I ever gave my Danish grandparents at Christmas. I cleaned house for an elderly lady who I learned emigrated from Denmark. Over the Christmas holiday that year I arranged to take her to meet my grandparents in their home. All of the Danish celebration greeted her, (she was more than a decade older than my grandparents) and they spoke in the native tongue most of the afternoon. The rapid talk, smiles and laughter are a memory forever in my mind and heart.

    1. What a wonderful memory for you. Your mention of them speaking in their native tongue made me smile. I well remember my grandmother and her friends switching to Swedish when there was something to discuss that they didn’t want us children to be privy to.

      You’ve reminded me of one dish that seems to have been common among all the Scandinavian communities: fruit soup. My grandmother made it, but through the years I found it being served by Danes and Norwegians, too.

      There’s a community a couple of hours from me called Danevang. As the name suggests, it was settled by Danish immigrants already in the upper midwest, as well as those who came directly from Denmark. It’s an interesting place, and I’ve often thought of writing about it. Maybe I will, now.

    1. It was great fun. I don’t run around with a wreath on my head these days, but Grandma’s recipes are on the kitchen counter, ready for this year’s baking. I’ve cut back a good bit, but it just isn’t Christmas without some of those familiar treats.

  11. You got to wear a candlelit wreath in your hair?? Wow, I’m pretty sure my parents never would’ve let me do that, fearing I’d set not only myself but the entire house on fire! Thanks, Linda, for doing the research on this one — and for interspersing it with personal memories. The only things I knew about St. Lucy were her feast day and that she’s patron saint of the blind. No wonder, huh?

    1. I can only imagine the discussions that took place between my mom and dad about that little escapade. Dad was the adventurous, confident one, while mom tended to be far more cautious, but in the end they clearly came to agreement, and we made a great memory that we talked about for years.

      I enjoyed learning about Lucy myself. Now when I hear that name, I won’t think only of Lucy and Desi and the Honeymooners! Whatever the truth of the ‘old’ Lucy’s life and death, she clearly has inspired plenty of people through the years.

  12. The flower wreath sounds much less dangerous, but back in the day, folks were made of sterner stuff. While my ancestors didn’t celebrate with fiery wreaths, they did go to midnight mass and then come home and party with tourtiere pie and adult beverages. Tame stuff, I know, but my digestive system just wouldn’t be able to handle it.

    1. I don’t know. There’s a good bit of schnapps and such that comes along with those mid-summer wreaths: enough that people dance to the “Little Frog Song” without any inhibition at all!

      I saw your mention of tourtiere pie in your blog. If I ever meet one, I intend to partake. It looks wonderful.

    1. I didn’t include all of the details about her trials and tribulations: suffice it to say that some iconography shows her with a sword sticking through her neck. However she lived and died, she certainly has lived on in her culture. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to bring her back for today’s Lucia celebrations? Of all the legends that live on, I most like the one that suggests she wore the candlelit wreath so that she could carry more food. That’s at least plausible.

  13. Interesting how easily “traditions” are started, and how they evolve and change. The early Catholic Church was well known for “rebranding” pagan holidays and traditions. Modern Christians would be appalled at how much of their “Christian” traditions are pagan in origin, including Christmas trees and Easter eggs and rabbits.

    1. I think most Christians — well, at least most of the ones I know personally — understand the roots of some of our favorite traditions. In fact, long before Christianity, the compilers of the Book of Genesis were drawing on some even older creation myths. We sometimes have a hard time understanding that ‘myth’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘false,’ or that some truths can only be communicated through story and myth.

      Your mention of Christmas trees reminded me of several old stories about ways that spiders helped Mary and Joseph, and how their webs were immortalized in some cultures by hanging tinsel on the trees. What’s more fun than making up a story?

  14. In 7th grade we studied St. Lucy. Somehow the information about prostitution and eyeball removal was not included in our lessons. What I remember about her was she served coffee and buns to her family while wearing a wreath with four burning candles on her head. This seemed highly unlikely to me, a pragmatic uncoordinated girl, leaving me with doubts about her saintliness. Great to read more about her here.

    1. Even I decided to leave out a few details of the various tortures she’s said to have suffered. An image search for St. Lucy icons shows her with a sword through her neck: maybe yes, maybe no, but certainly a detail that wasn’t necessary to the story of her song. I’m certainly glad that the one bit of her tradition that survived was the candlelit wreath, the coffee, and the buns. If I’m going to feel akin to a saint, that beats the sword any day!

  15. Linda, I love this as much, if not more, than any post you’ve ever written. I knew a bit about the Swedish traditions post 1700s, but nothing of the early history, which I found fascinating. But what I loved most of all was the tradition of the serving the coffee and buns and that you were able to experience this yourself. That really has to be the most beautiful and remarkable memory. (I liked both renditions of the song but my favorite was the second — those voices were so angelic!) (I fear a candlelit wreath with my flying big hair! Could be trouble!)

    1. Technology’s made the celebrations much safer, especially in homes, now that battery powered candles are available. Some even flicker, although there’s nothing like the real thing. From a cursory glance, it seems that actual lighted candles are limited now to the occasional public celebration, where well-made wreaths and every sort of precaution can prevent an unhappy event.

      In our family, the buns and coffee remained a tradition as long as my grandparents were alive, although the eating, drinking, and conversation became the highight of the morning.

  16. I have a book that, I think, was given to me as a child by one of my Mama’s relatives one year for Christmas. (That side of the family was big on giving books as gifts. It’s probably one reason I’m such a bookworm!) It was called something like “Christmas Around the World.” One chapter was about Sweden and the image of the girl in the candle lit headress has always stayed with me.

    I was unaware, though, of the story behind St. Lucia. Thanks for that!

    I’ll have to see if I can dig that book out and look at it again.

    1. Your comment got me thinking about those days when books like that were our windows on the world. We had two sets of encyclopediae in the house, and sitting on a rainy afternoon reading one of the volumes was pure pleasure.

      I don’t remember which book it was, but I do remember coming across some of our traditions like Santa Lucia in a book, and being astonished that someone would write about something that seemed as natural to me as washing my face. It was a first hint that different people had different practices: what a concept!

  17. What a fascinating post, I did enjoy hearing all the different legends about her. What an awful end though. How exciting to be able to wear a candlelit wreath and sing your grandparents awake.xxx

    1. As a Catholic friend’s daughter once said in all seriousness, “The martyrs are pretty cool, but I don’t want to be one.” Indeed! It’s far better to carry candles and share coffee and buns, and sing a pretty song!

    1. Of course I thought about you as I was writing! I learned a good bit about Neopolitan/Italian history in the process, along with everything else. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  18. Again, you educate me on a subject I knew nothing about. This is all fascinating about the lovely St. Lucy. But what a story! Sadness and tragedy within the beauty. Thanks for the lovely music as well.

    1. Poor Lucy had to put up with a good bit, including fire, a la Joan of Arc, and death by a sword through her neck. But, there was a happy ending. At least according to legend, God restored her sight, and she began working miracles on behalf of those with blindness or other vision problems. At least she’s remembered now in ways that bring people together, and increase their joy in the holiday season — especially with that beautiful song.

  19. A quick read of the title created “Sanka Lucia.”

    We certainly had some barbaric forebears and they provide for some gruesome history. It’s interesting that people would celebrate her torture by depicting her eyeballs on a plate.and that there is a dish, Arancini called Sicilian Eyeballs, celebrating those eyes. I happen to love Arancini but this story has taken a bit of the delectability from it. As well, the depiction of her shows that the eyes remain where they belong. I guess celebrations become what they become. In reading about her I found that you could have posted this one day later on the anniversary of her martyrdom. And I also learned that there is a Saint Lucy’s Church in Syracuse, NY. where I lived as a child for several years but was unaware of the church.
    I grew up hearing Caruso’s performance of “Santa Lucia” which I guess is unrivaled but Gigli’s performance must come close. I never knew the story until now.

    1. I don’t know why you landed in moderation; I suspect you might have posted your comment on a different device.

      I noticed that the recipe called the dish Sicilian rice balls, which sounds far more appetizing than eyeballs. Whatever name they go by, the recipe looks delicious. Clearly, the Swedes weren’t the only ones who decided to memorialize Lucia with something good to eat. As for Lucy’s eyes, there’s another legend that claims that God restored them to her, or at least restored her sight; that’s how she ended up being the patron saint of the blind and visually impaired. I assume that’s why she has her eyes intact in the icon I posted, while the dish (?) at the lower right is empty. Who knows? Maybe Saint Lucy had kaleidoscope eyes, too.

      Speaking of dishes, I’ve never had the Arancini, but I found a restaurant in Galveston that serves the dish. One of these days, I’m going to try it out.

      1. I had two links and that tosses me into moderation. I hope you enjoy the Arancini. We used to get them from a very nice Italian bakery in town but sadly it closed.
        Maybe when folks pray to her and look into the sky they see diamonds.

  20. Linda, thanks for sharing more traditions of the season from Sweden. It can be a fascinating journey to read posts such as this. Before moving to Ohio, I taught several years teaching in a farming/ranching community. The ladies at the Lutheran Church still gather to make their annual batch of Lefsa. The church’s original pulpit Bible was written in Norwegian.

    1. I spent a year in Salt Lake City serving a Norwegian Lutheran congregation. There were some differences there from my Swedish background, of course, but it was remarkably familiar. I suspect you would have enjoyed working with the kids there, who had found ways to hold on to their traditions in the midst of the quite different Mormon culture. There was a Lutheran high school in town, and at football games, this was one of the cheers that they used:

      “Ludefisk, Ludefisk, Lefse, Lefsa!
      We’re the mighty Norskies! Ja, sure, you betcha!”

  21. Wearing a wreath of candles in your hair sounds dicey – I kept thinking of wax dripping as I watch the Swedish singers descend the stairs. Sign me up for the lussekatter, though.
    I’ve never been to Naples (or Sweden), but I just finished the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I didn’t know that Neapolitan was a different language, or dialect. The novels are written in Italian, but they refer to people speaking in dialect constantly.

    1. I’m sure there have been a few incidents in the history of candle-wearing, but from what I’ve read and been told, getting wax out of a girl’s hair was the most likely consequence. It certainly wouldn’t be fun, but it wouldn’t leave any long-term damage, either.

      I’d heard of Ferrante, and one of the books in her series, but didn’t realize that it was a series. The Neopolitan novels look like a good read. I skimmed a few articles about them, and was particularly caught by this line: “The Neapolitan Novels tell the life story of two perceptive and intelligent girls, born in Naples in 1944, who try to create lives for themselves within a violent and stultifying culture.” As the saying has it, what goes around, comes around. ‘Violent and stultifying culture’ is just what we have; her protagonists might have something to offer for us.

      1. The four novels take the two women from age 8 or so to their mid-sixties, one big story in four parts. One character flees Naples, goes to university, and becomes a writer (she’s the narrator). The other stays in Naples in the old neighborhood and has to deal with the neighborhood mobsters (the Camorra, the Naples mafia). There’s a lot of Italian politics of the 70s, red brigade stuff, but mainly it’s about the relationship between the women and the men and children in their lives. A little slow going at first, but I found it very rewarding. I’m reading more by Ferrante.

        1. Speaking of Italian families, I heard a fascinating interview this week with Mark Seal, author of Leave the Gun ~ Take the Cannoli — the story of making the film The Godfather. My to-be-read pile is getting higher by the day.

  22. Beautiful post Linda.
    Mum r.I.p in later years following a diagnosis of macular degeneration ( type of eye condition) used to pray to St Lucy, patron saint of eyes. Mum decided not to pursue surgery and her condition never worsened.
    Two weeks ago I posted the prayer to an Irish friend who is awaiting eye surgery for a different condition.
    We bought a St Lucy statue where she holds her eyes in her hand (Photo on one of my posts).I later brought a statue from Lourdes for a neighbour of ours.
    The song at the end is beautiful and I recognise the tune.
    Thank you for posting.

    1. Being raised Methodist, my knowledge of the saints was limited at best. I knew about St. Christopher, of course, but not many others — and Saint Lucy was known only because of the song and the traditions. It’s good to hear your mother’s macular degeneration didn’t progress. I’ve been lucky with my glaucoma, too, and hope to keep that under control.

      I learned one interesting thing after writing this post. According to some legends, St. Lucy’s sight was miraculously restored to her. That’s why some icons show her with her eyes intact.

  23. I’m back here, finally I had time to dedicate myself to this article with the attention it deserves.
    Interesting how traditions migrate from one place to another. I did not know about Lucia bringing food to the christians in the catacombes.
    I learned much from this post and from other comments, I had no idea of the spiders helping Maria and Joseph. I’ll tell my wife later!

    I can only add that in some regions of Italy is Santa Lucia who brings gifts to good children. Of course they have to go to sleep early even if they are very excited knowing that there will be a surprise next morning. Now this tradition has lost part of its appeal but I remember my Mom telling me how she and her brothers and sister were waiting for that night. Of course it was a time with not much money around and gifts were very simple, not commercial. Perhaps an hand made puppet… or a special cake.

    Thanks again for this interesting post, and yes arancini are good.

    1. In all my reading, I never came across the tradition of Santa Lucia bringing gifts to the children. Of course, I was focused on a different part of the tradition, and the saint’s history. That’s such an enjoyable addition to the post, and I’m so glad you returned to tell us about it. I had that same experience, although I was waiting for Saint Nicholas! But the excitement? and the inability to sleep? and the long discussions among us children about whether we had been ‘good enough’? That’s all so, so familiar!

      I liked your mention of the puppet and cake, too. While I appreciate efforts to resist commercialism, I’m equally opposed to not giving gifts at all. Christmas is a time for sharing and for gifts, however small they may be. Your comment was a gift — thank you!

  24. I started following this blog because I enjoyed the bird pictures. Then I learned about flowers. Then I discovered Texas has some really neat out of the way places to explore. Then I find a song I love since it covers both kinds of music. (Yes, “country AND western”.) Oh, more birds. Great!

    Each new post is like unwrapping a very special gift, just for me.

    Like butter spreading slowly over a hot sliced biscuit, it dawns on me that no matter the subject, it is the writing to which I keep returning. It is informative, entertaining, literate yet down-to-earth. Comfortable.

    This current chapter in my journey through music history is simply fascinating! I have always loved listening to Santa Lucia, but having discovered a heretofore unknown dimension of the story, I hear it with a newfound appreciation.

    My blog cup runneth over.

    1. I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me. When I began this blog, I told several people — some in person, some in comments — that my purpose was “to learn to write.” They’d laugh, or roll their eyes, and say, “Whadda ya mean? You’ve been writing for years, and you’re good at it.” True, I had a great vocabulary, I didn’t split many infinitives, and I could stay relatively coherent through multiple paragraphs. But I’d been writing in academic contexts for years, and I was tired of it.

      Way back in 2009, I told a story about my favorite grad school professor. I may repost that entry at some time, but this paragraph will do for now:

      “He hated nothing more than those who refused to claim their words.  A retreat into false objectivity, so acceptable in academia, drove him crazy.  It was an unfortunate student who used any of the phrases:  ‘One would think…’ ‘There are those who…’ ‘It has been suggested that…’ ‘Critics say…’   Using those or similar phrases in writing or speech would land him in front of you, glaring, breathing heavily, and saying, ‘Your words are beautiful.  Your words are elegant.  But are they true?  What about you? What do you think?'”

      For you to say that you find my writing “informative, entertaining, literate yet down-to-earth, [and] comfortable” tells me that I’m on the way to writing in a way that my beloved professor would approve. That makes me happy, and I’m looking forward to more development in the new year.

      Speaking of butter and biscuits, one of the best true-life exchanges I’ve ever heard took place in a Target check-out line. Two demonstrative women were sharing stories, and one said something that left the other wholly astonished. With a whoop of laughter, she said, “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” There’s nothing like a good Texas idiom.

  25. What an excellent memory! I got chills reading about it. I would have loved to sneak into my grandparents’ home & do something like that. But perhaps not with fire on my head since I’m notoriously clumsy.

    1. I was lucky enough to have a hyper-cautious mother who occasionally gave way to my ‘let’s-go-for-it’ father, and since the grandparents were his parents, he won the day. One experience of the whole thing, candles and all, was enough: partly because you can’t duplicate magic, but mostly because talking about it every year afterward brought the experience alive again. There’s nothing like hearing the phrase “Do you remember when…” to make everyone smile, knowing that a memorable experience is about to be recounted.

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