Lucy Brightens Dark Days Of Advent
Published: December 8, 2011
Here’s the question of the day: Are you ready for Christmas? As for me, I still have three-million-and-one things to do, but still I am looking forward with great anticipation to the big day.
After all, when it comes to Christmas, what’s not to like? There’s that whole jolliness thing with eggnog, cookies and the giggling of our tiny Florida cousins (once or twice removed, but who’s counting?). And don’t forget the glorious hymns singing praise to our Lord Jesus Christ!
Still, like so many other folks, I struggle with the winter blues, so I rather dread the dark weeks of Advent and the bleakness of January.
This year, though, I’m seeking help from an Advent saint whose feast day is Dec. 13. Her name is Lucy and comes from the Latin—lux—meaning light.
Under the old Julian calendar, that day marked the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, so Lucy is associated with the gradual lengthening of days, as well as the light of Christ.
Many details about Lucy’s life are murky, but historians agree she was born in A.D. 283 in Syracuse, Sicily. She died 21 years later during the persecutions by Diocletian.
Lucy’s mother was a convert from paganism to Christianity and she raised her daughter in the faith. Evidently a pagan nobleman was eager to marry the beautiful Lucy, but she rejected him because she had taken a secret vow of virginity as a sign of her love for Christ.
Enraged, the would-be suitor denounced Lucy to the authorities, revealing her allegiance to the then-illegal Christian faith.
There are various stories about the terrible punishments this poor girl was subjected to. The authorities insisted that she reject Christ and make sacrifices to the pagan gods, and when she refused, she was condemned to work in a brothel.
The soldiers who tried to drag her there, however, were unable to budge her. They then tried to burn her to death, but the flames wouldn’t harm her. Rather than relinquish Christ, Lucy finally succumbed to a brutal death by being stabbed in the throat.
Many cultures have huge celebrations on her feast day. Sicilians are especially devoted to Lucy because in 1582 there was a famine in Syracuse, and the townspeople prayed for her intercession. When ships loaded with wheat showed up on Dec. 13, they rejoiced.
People were so hungry that they cooked and ate the wheat instead of taking the time to grind it into flour. To this day Italians celebrate the feast day of Santa Lucia by preparing a variety of delicious dishes made with cooked wheat.
In the Scandinavian countries, people mark St. Lucy’s day with splendid processions consisting of women and girls dressed as “Lucy brides” and wearing pure white dresses with red sashes. They carry lit candles, and the leader wears a crown with white candles attached.
In Croatia, the custom is to plant wheat on Dec. 13. The seeds are pressed into a small dish of soil, which is kept moist and placed in a warm spot. By Christmas Eve the green shoots of wheat should have appeared, and the pot is placed next to the manger as a gift to the one Lucy loved so much. He was called the Bread of Life and was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”
Many people also keep a candle lit all day as a tribute to the saint who kept Christ’s love aglow in her heart despite unimaginable suffering.
Lucy is a special saint for anyone who longs for Christ’s light to fill their hearts. She leads us through the darkness of Advent to the brightness of Christmas. And she surely can help us through all the bleak days of winter. St. Lucy, pray for us!
Lorraine’s latest books include a biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia,” and a fun-filled mystery set at a small parish in Decatur, “Death of a Liturgist.” Artwork is by Jef Murray, her husband. Readers may contact the Murrays at email@example.com.