Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, there was the Julian
calendar. On that calendar, the winter solstice was December 13. In Sweden, on December 13, there is a festival of light called Saint Lucy's Day (which is an appropriate name, as "Lucy" comes from the Latin word for light). Early in the morning, as part of the festivities, the youngest daughter of a celebrating family dresses in white, with a crown of lit candles, and wakes the rest of the family with coffee, saffron-flavored rolls, and song.
The story of Lucy, like the stories of many other early saints, is
unreliable, but it is generally accepted that there was a young woman
named Lucy who was martyred in Syracuse in 304 A.D. In the
middle ages, she was one of the most popular saints. Her popularity
led to her being the patron of a wide variety of people, including
cutlers, glaziers, notaries, saddlers,
salesmen, servant girls, tailors, weavers, and writers. Her
intercession has been invoked against blindness, dysentery, eye
diseases, fire, infection, hemorrhage, and sore throats.
According to the traditional story, Lucy was born to wealthy
Christian parents around 283 A.D. Her father died when she was
young, leaving her to be raised by her mother. As a young woman, Lucy
secretly dedicated herself to Christ. Her mother, unaware of this
vow, arranged a marriage. For three years, Lucy managed to postpone
the wedding, but finally her mother would allow no more
procrastination. Lucy prayed that God would show her a way to avoid
the marriage and remain faithful to her vow.
At the time, numerous visitors were making pilgrimages to see the
relics of Saint Agatha in Catania. Many miracles had supposedly
been wrought through Agatha's intercession. Lucy persuaded her
mother, who had been plagued by a hemorrhage, to go to Catania with
her and ask for Agatha's help. She reminded her mother of the
story in the Gospels of the woman who was cured of a hemorrhage by
touching Christ's cloak.
So they went to Catania, and spent all night praying. In the
morning, Lucy's mother was cured. She was so grateful that she
promised to allow Lucy to dedicate her life to God instead of getting
When they returned to Syracuse, and the young man to whom Lucy had
been unwillingly betrothed found out that she would not be marrying
him, he denounced her as a Christian to the governor. At the time,
Christianity was illegal. Lucy was found guilty, and sentenced to be
carried off to a brothel to suffer the shame of prostitution. But
when the governor's men tried to drag her away, they found that they
could not move her. They even hitched her to a team of oxen, but
it was as if she was rooted to the ground. So they brought wood and stacked it around her and set it afire, but once again God saved her. They tortured her, and tore her eyes out. Her eyes were miraculously restored. Finally, they killed her by putting a sword through her throat.
In Christian art, Lucy is often represented as a young maiden
holding a dish or a plate with her eyes on it. Sometimes she is also
depicted hitched to a yoke of oxen.