Due to the position of our planet, this is the day when we have the fewest daylight hours in the whole year, but it’s also the sign that the days will slowly start getting longer, almost unnoticed at first.
Nordic countries are used to “welcoming back” the light and it’s not unusual to go to a “light celebration” and other similar parties, culminating in a parade of young girls, cladded in white, bearing candles. It’s a truly breathtaking and moving experience to witness.
December 13th is also the day many cities located in the north of Italy celebrate Saint Lucy: the story goes that Saint Lucy is an old woman who flies around at night, just like Santa Claus. Yet poor Lucy doesn’t ride a reindeer sledge, but rather she leads a miserable old cart, pulled by a donkey.
She stops at children’s houses and leaves sweets and toys if you are good and a large dark piece of coal if you are bad. The tradition is very popular in the area of Brixia, Cremona, Bergamo and Mantua, where Saint Lucy beats Santa Claus 3 to 1.
Actually, Saint Lucy and December 13th seem to be very popular in many Italian areas where we’ve found different ways of celebrating this date.
Palermo, Sicily: the celebration goes back many centuries. Legend has it that Saint Lucy saved the people of Palermo from starvation when she somehow brought a ship transporting food to the city’s port. From then on, locals avoid eating pasta or bread on the 13th and only eat rice-a delicious rice gateaux called “arancini”. Local bakeries and delicatessen shops take part in a modern competition to see who can prepare the best ones.
Calitri, in Campania: in the old days, children looked forward to celebrating this day, when they were allowed to take part in a rather unusual, funny competition called “Sciula sciula”.
They launched themselves down small local slopes, sliding down on their stomachs; the bravest ones even tried to catch a coin with their teeth while slipping down close to a nearby wall. Old times, old games!
Marmilla, in the centre of Sardinia: if both you and your parents had lost all hope to get married then this day was for praying to Saint Lucy to find you a decent husband…or just any husband!
And in Campania, in the area around Naples, there is an old saying that pregnant women mustn’t get too close to knives and scissors on this day. It’s quite funny, isn’t it? As if a tool for cutting could be dangerous just on that one day, 13th December!
What about you? Do you have any tales to tell us of other traditions about this famous date?