Back in the day, the people longed for light on the shortest day of the year. They prayed to Saint Lucy, Lucia of Syracuse (Lucia roughly translates to “the lucent one”), dedicated processions and festivities to her. Nowadays, Lucia festivals take place all over Europe and the US throughout entire the year, the most famous one of its kind being celebrated in the saint’s Sicilian birthplace. December 13th is all about the tremendous, giant annual procession, the so-called Festa di Santa Lucia. You certainly shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to be there!
About Saint Lucy
Lucia of Syracuse is venerated as a saint in many different churches including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, German-Evangelical, and American and Scandinavian Lutheran. She lived from 283 to 304 AD in the ancient town of Syracuse and was originally supposed to be married off to a rich Roman man. However, Lucia had already consecrated her virginity to Christ and rejected her husband-to-be. Her mother Eutychia, who Lucia had cured from a bleeding disorder, supported her decision. Accused as a Christian and sentenced to death, she was eventually killed by sword after having suffered severe martyrdom. Lore has it that she worked many wonders and survived even the most gruesome torture. Lucia’s relics currently rest in the church San Geremia e Lucia in Venice.
Why December 13th?
Festa di Santa Lucia in Syracuse takes place on December 13th, which is also the saint’s feast date. Originally, it was also the date of winter solstice and, thus, the shortest day of the year, until it was changed to December 21st due to the Gregorian calendar reform. Lucia is mostly connected with light rites. She’s the patron saint of the blind, the poor, and the cities Venice and Syracuse. To this day, December 13th is a fixture of the pre-Christmas period, particularly in Nordic countries.
Procession of Saint Lucy
Festa di Santa Lucia is one of Sicily’s oldest religious traditions and lasts several days. The main festivities take place on December 13th with a grand procession you absolutely don’t want to miss. The silver statue of the saint, which usually rests inside Cathedral Santa Maria delle Colonne, is given to the brotherhood of the carriers, who carry it through Syracuse on their shoulders during a festive procession. A giant crowd awaits the arrival of the saint on Cathedral Square accompanied by impressive fireworks. The feretory is now carried through the historic town centre, past the Arteusa fountain, across the Umberto bridge and through the district Santa Lucia. The carriers repeatedly, euphorically cry out the traditional call “Sarausana jè!” (“She’s from Syracuse!“), answered by the choir with a resounding “Viva Santa Lucia!” In the meantime, the procession moves on to the Basilica Santa Lucia, built on the very spot where the saint suffered her martyrdom according to lore. The statue rests inside the basilica until December 20th, when she’s returned to the cathedral in another festive procession.
Many small festivities and market stalls accompany the procession. Here you find characteristic regional products, breathtakingly beautiful craftsmanship, delicious dolci, clothes and toys. Many locals use the market to do some Christmas shopping, and you will surely find the odd neat souvenir here or there yourself.
Festa di Santa Lucia in Syracuse certainly is a rather unusual religious Italian holiday, as things tend to get rather loud and lively. Feel the infectious atmosphere and enjoy some dapper Christmas shopping while you’re here!