At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

La Festa di Santa Lucia

Much loved saint was immortalised in song


Fireworks over the harbour at Syracuse during
celebrations of the Festa di Santa Lucia
La festa di Santa Lucia - St Lucy’s Day - will be celebrated all over Italy today.

According to tradition, Santa Lucia comes down from the sky with a cart and a donkey and distributes gifts to all the children who have been good, while all the naughty children receive only a piece of coal.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Today, a silver statue of the saint containing her relics will be paraded through the streets before being returned to the Cathedral.

In Sicilian folklore there is a legend that a famine ended on Santa Lucia’s feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbour.

Santa Lucia is also popular with children in parts of northern Italy. In Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and Mantua in Lombardy, and also parts of the Veneto, Trentino, Friuli and Emilia-Romagna, the children will have been expecting the saint to arrive with presents during the night.

A silver statue of Santa Lucia is borne through the  streets of Syracuse on December 13 each year
A silver statue of Santa Lucia is borne through the
streets of Syracuse on December 13 each year
According to tradition she arrives with her donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children leave coffee for Santa Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo and they believe they must not watch the saint delivering her gifts.

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a third century Christian woman who took food to other Christians hiding in the catacombs in Rome. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light her way in order to leave her hands free to carry as much food to them as possible. It is believed she died as a martyr on 13 December 304 AD.

An inscription dating from the fourth century was found in Syracuse mentioning the Festa di Santa Lucia. There it is believed she was a Sicilian noble woman who was killed for refusing to renounce her Christian beliefs.

Children in Bergamo leave letters for Santa Lucia in the way British children write to Santa Claus
Children in Bergamo leave letters for Santa Lucia
in the way British children write to Santa Claus 
Travel tip:

A pre-Christmas tradition for children in Bergamo is to visit the church of the Madonna dello Spasimo in the Città Bassa, lower town, with letters detailing what they would like to receive for Christmas. The Church of San Spasimo, in Via XX Settembre at the hub of the shopping area, is also known locally as the church of Santa Lucia because the local children lay letters containing their Christmas wish lists next to the altar containing the statue of the Blessed Virgin of Spasimo, also known as Santa Lucia. 


The Castel dell'Ovo and the harbour at Santa Lucia in Naples
The Castel dell'Ovo and the harbour at Santa Lucia in Naples
Travel tip:

An area in the centre of Naples, between the Royal Palace and Borgo Marinari, the site of the Castel dell’Ovo, is known as Santa Lucia. The first settlement there was established by the Greeks, but nowadays the area is known for good hotels, fish restaurants and sailing clubs. The famous Neapolitan song, Santa Lucia, was about a boatman issuing an invitation to go out in his boat to enjoy the cool of the evening. The song made the picturesque waterfront district of Naples famous when it was recorded at the beginning of the 20th century by Enrico Caruso, an opera singer from Naples.



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