Saint Lucy’s Day is arriving and in Sicily we already feel the feast’s athmosphere
Christmas is arriving and many Sicilian villages are getting ready to host the religious festivals, inaugurating the Winter holidays’ season. A lot of religious celebrations commemorate the Sicilian local patrons. Saint Lucy’s Feast (Festa di Santa Lucia in Italian) is one of the most heartfelt religious events in Sicily. Saint Lucy is the patron saint of Syracuse and Belpasso, and protector of blind people and oculists. Sicilian people consider Saint Lucy so important, that she is celebrated in various Sicilian villages and in different months of the year.
Saint Lucy’s Day is traditionally celebrated in Syracuse, San Cono and Belpasso on the 13th of December.
The name Lucia comes from the Latin lux (which means light). However, in Syracuse the name had progressively changed its accent over time, getting closer and closer to the Greek accent, despite the Latin origins. Today, the name Lucia is very widespread throughout Sicily, especially in the eastern part of the island.
Stories and legends about Saint Lucy’s Day
According to tradition, Saint Lucy was a young woman from Syracuse, who converted to Christianity during the paganism of early Roman Age. The young woman was forced to marry a man, but she refused him because she didn’t love him. In revenge for her refusal, the man reported the young Lucia to the Roman authorities, which at that time persecuted Christians under the order of Diocletian. Romans started oppressing Lucia and this was the began of her martyrdom. After a lot of tortures, Lucia died as a martyr in Syracuse, becoming the patroness of this city. Christian sources ascertained this story, however there are also many popular legends about Saint Lucy. According to the most famous legend, Saint Lucy was blinded during her torture. For this reason, today in Syracuse people venerate Saint Lucy as the protector of uccioli (which means eyes, in Sicilian dialect). Another popular legend tells that Saint Lucia offered her protection in Syracuse in 1646, during a severe famine. A quail announced the miracle to the population of Syracuse: today Saint Lucy is also celebrated on the first Sunday of May each year in Syracuse, on the occasion of the patronal feast of Santa Lucia Delle Quaglie (Saint Lucy of the Quails). Other commemorations also take place in April and during the second Sunday of the month in May.
Saint Lucy’s Day in Sicilian villages
Syracuse and Ortigia Island
In December, several villages of Sicily celebrate Saint Lucy, on the occasion of the name day. Of course, the biggest feast is celebrated in Syracuse: the devotees start praying thirteen days before the official feast, during a commemoration called tredicina. Five days before they start the preparations and decorations for the event.
The feast starts on the 13th December. All Syracusans gather in the town to commemorate the Saint. A lot of people come every year to Syracuse on the occasion of the Feast, especially the most devoted Syracusans who now live far from their native town.
During the celebration, the Statue of Saint Lucy is carried on shoulders by 48 devotees (called green caps), from the Cathedral to Piazza Duomo. Then, they walk through Porta Messina, and arrive later at the Porto Grande. Here, there is one of the most awaited moments of all the Feast: sailors play the sirens to pay homage to the patroness. Finally, Saint Lucy reaches the Basilica of Saint Lucia at the Sepulchre. There, the Statue will be exposed on the altar, for all the following week.
During the past, the Feast of Saint Lucy was strongly linked to religion. Although the religious component remains very strong still today, this Feast has been influenced by innovation and it has become a mixture of sacred and profane. In fact, there are many folkloristic elements that recently have attracted curious tourists. Syracuse is set up with stands where you can taste typical products of the festival, such as uccioli and the cuccìa siracusana, a dessert made of cooked wheat, ricotta cheese and honey. There are also parades of young people wearing sumptuous nineteenth-century costumes.
As the tradition wants, the feast also continues on December the 20th with a celebration called ottava, during which the Statue also reaches Ortigia Island. The feast of Saint Lucia in Syracuse is certainly an excellent opportunity to discover the most genuine Sicilian traditions, admiring the baroque monuments of this wonderful city. Syracuse is, in fact, one of the most majestic and ancient Sicilian cities: its foundation dates back to around 733 BC. During Greek and Roman Age, Syracuse was the city of intellectuals and philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Cicero are just some of the most important intellectuals of the time who were impressed by Syracuse. In particular, Cicero described it as “the most beautiful Greek city”. The historical, artistic and cultural heritage of Syracuse is truly immense. The city is amazing all year long, but it really acquires a magical atmosphere during Saint Lucy’s Day.
Saint Lucy’s carriages in Belpasso
Saint Lucy is not only celebrated in Syracuse. Another interesting Feast is the one that takes place in Belpasso, a village on the southern slopes of Etna (in the province of Catania). Here, the carriages are the most particular feature of this feast. Every year, on the 11th and 12th December, the principal square of Belpasso hosts a great exposition of carriages, long more than 15 meters. All the carriages are painted and decorated by young Sicilian artists. The exposition symbolizes a combination of tradition and modernity and a mixture of devotion and art. It represents the opening of the traditional patronal festival that is celebrated the following day.
If you are leaving for Sicily in December, you could catch this opportunity to live Saint Lucy’s Day in the beautiful city of Syracuse, which is part of one of our cultural excursions. Alternatevely, you could choose to visit one of the various Sicilian villages, that are making preparations for this long-awaited event.
Sicily is always amazing, even in December!