Santa Lucia, Lussekatter, and Star Boys

And now it is St. Lucy’s Day, sacred to Italy and to Sweden. Santa Lucia in Italian, pronounced loo-chee-a; Sankta Lucia in Swedish, with a soft C, loo-see-a. Seth went and got us four lussekatter, traditional Sankta Lucia buns flavored with saffron, from the Swedish bakery in Lantana for our breakfast in the morning. It is nice going to bed knowing that a special treat awaits you at the breakfast table.

Lucia calls down the light at this dark time of year perhaps more strongly than any other saint or gift bearer. Her very name in Italian, Lucia, is rooted in the word luce, which translates to light. Her night, in Sweden, is illuminated with candles. There are great processions in the towns and churches; each has its Lucia and scores of attendants and cone-capped star boys, all of them dressed in white, all of them holding candles, all of them singing the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia,” but in Swedish. It is one of the most beautiful sights you will see, one of the most beautiful songs you will hear.

In Sweden in the darkness of morning breakfast might be brought to you in your room by the Lucia––usually the eldest daughter of the household. Her gift is lussekatter and hot coffee, and she makes her appearance in each room, donning a wreath of glowing candles upon her head. In Italy, the gifts are different. Children will leave hay and carrots in their shoes for Santa Lucia’s donkey, and in return, Santa Lucia will tie little presents to their shoelaces.

Seth’s great aunt was named Lucy. Her father, an immigrant to Maine from Italy, lost his sight in an accident on the railway where he worked. Aunt Lucy was born soon after and named for the patron saint of vision and of the blind. “But I was no saint,” she would confide to us.

But we will think of Aunt Lucy and we will have our coffee and lussekatter and we will have the Santa Lucia song in our heads and on our lips all day and all night, all of these things bringing light––luce––to the Midwinter darkness.


Image: One of four lussekattor we’ll be eating in the morning!


7 thoughts on “Santa Lucia, Lussekatter, and Star Boys

  1. This is particularly lovely, thanks.

  2. Re: Lucia of Syracusa, December 13th,
    Patron Saint of the Vision-Challenged.

    Thank you for your attention to St Lucy, John, enjoyed your information, but it failed to mention the very special status of St Lucy among the vision-challenged, and among writers, scholars, teachers, librarians ~ all of whom rely in particular ways on their eyes. St Lucy was an early virgin martyr of the Church, blinded and then murdered by order of Diocletian. Her final moments were captured by Paolo Veronese, master painter of the Venetian High Renaissance; for an image, see my essay on Veronese, Gallery of Images, Image 13.

    With best regards, Maureen E. Mulvihill.

  3. Paula Marie Gourley says:

    This brought tears to my eyes, on reading. We have such need of light, for it kindles hope and guides us on our way. Thank you for this soft candle, the scent of saffron, a smile about a saucy Aunt, and the sweetness and love, so deeply needed.

  4. Marjorie Hollis says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you for showing us the light in these dark times!

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