Welcome back, my Cacophonous Carolers! Are your eyes tired from writing out all those Christmas cards? Buying all those presents? Fighting all those crowds? How about giving those tired old eyeballs a rest ... in a DISH !! We continue our look at weird holiday traditions with this special day, December 13th, and the lovely lady on the left is Saint Lucy (aka Saint Lucia). This MAY NOT be how you normally are used to seeing her and/or her namesakes - they usually are seen in Scandinavian countries as the girls dressed in white with the wreath of candles on their heads (see second photo) bringing breakfast to their parents in honor of the day and distributing cakes and candy to children. However, there's a much darker side to the story ... as with a number of Catholic saints, there's a martyrdom involved, and this one's a doozy - the Wikipedia entry says: "St. Lucy is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr's death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. The Guilte Legende, a widespread and influential compendium of saint's biographies compiled in the late Middle Ages, records her story thus: She was seeking help for her mother's long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucy became a devout Christian, refused to compromise her virginity in marriage and was denounced to the Roman authorities by the man she would have wed. They threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking, insisting that her death would lessen the fear of it for other Christians and bring grief to non-believers. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop these denouncements, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Saint Lucy was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement."
In case you're wondering about those candles, there's this: "In another story, Saint Lucy was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head."
Now I know what you're thinking. "But what about those EYES IN A DISH?" Well, here's the variation to her martyrdom story that explains that (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle): "Lucy, or Lucia as she was known in her hometown of Syracuse, Sicily sometime around the third century, achieved martyrdom when a local pagan wanted her for his bride. A devoted Christian through-and-through, Lucia rejected the bridegroom and demanded her dowry be spent on alms. The much aggrieved pagan turned her over to the authorities. After refusing to convert or accept a pagan husband, soldiers tortured Lucia thoroughly. When she still wouldn’t acquiesce, they cut out her eyes. Legend has it that even without eyes she could still see and declare her Christian commitment. However, some stories claim that Lucia cut out her own eyes to spite her pagan suitor and demonstrate her faith in God. This gory history is the reason why Lucy is often seen serving up a platter of eyeballs." By the way, the statue of St. Lucy seen at top is located right here in my home town, at the Saint Leonard of Port Maurice Church in Boston.
There are two more items of interest about the day, both courtesy of Wikipedia - first, regarding the more traditional meaning behind the wreath of candles: "The St. Lucy's Day celebrations retain many indigenous Germanic pagan, pre-Christian mid-winter elements, and the practices associated with the day, predates the adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia, and is like much of Scandinavian folklore, and even religiosity today, based on the annual struggle between light and darkness.
The Nordic observation of St. Lucy is first attested in the Middle Ages, and continued after the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s and 1530s, although the modern celebration is only about 200 years old. It is likely that tradition owes its popularity in the Nordic countries to the extreme change in daylight hours between the seasons in this region.
The pre-Christian holiday of Yule, or jól, was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings, but also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark."
Last but not least is my personal favorite piece of trivia about today (or tonight, specifically), called Lussinatta, or Lussi (Lucy) Night: "Lussinatta, the Lussi Night, was December 13. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was riding through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda. This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western and Central Europe.
Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits might come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water.
It is tempting to look at Father Christmas’ journey with his reindeer as a commercial relic inspired by this pre-Christian tradition." So when the police show up at your next all-night Yule party, you now have an iron-clad excuse - you HAVE to do this to keep Lussi and the Lussiferda away! :) More tomorrow!