Saint Lucy was a Christian martyr honored in the middle ages. She is also known as Lucia of Syracuse or Saint Lucia. In Croatia, her traditional feast day called “blagdan Svete Lucije” (Feast of St. Lucy) is celebrated on December 13.
Saint Lucy is most notable as a protector of blind people and people who suffer from eye diseases and sore throats. Many Christians make an annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Lucy in Syracuse, Italy, in hopes of the blessing of Saint Lucy.
In this post, we cover:
The facts are these…
Saint Lucy was a Christian martyr who lived in Syracuse, Italy at the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Her tomb was found in 1894 in the catacombs of San Giovanni in Syracuse. The tomb inscription and a fresco in the crypt of S. Marziano testify that people worshiped her.
There are two legends about Saint Lucy. According to the first legend, Saint Lucy was a child from a respectable and wealthy family. When she was a child, she vowed to be a virgin. After her father died when she was 5, her mother wanted to arrange a marriage for her in Syracuse.
However, Lucy’s mother fell ill, so the two of them went on a pilgrimage to Catania, Sicily. When they arrived, they visited the tomb of Saint Agatha (Sveta Agata, Agatha of Sicily), a patron saint of Catania, to pray. After this, Lucy’s mother recovered and also became a Christian like Lucy. Saint Agatha appeared in Lucy’s dream and warned her of the power of her faith and similar destiny (martyrdom) that Lucy would have to suffer.
When Lucy and her mother came back to Syracuse, Lucy canceled the arranged marriage. Her mother supported her to establish an institution for the sick and poor where Lucy and her friends collected food. To have free hands to carry the food, she put a wreath of candles on her head to see the path as she passed.
Soon, Lucy’s fiancé discovered she canceled their engagement and reported her to the prefect Paschasius (Pashazije). Paschasius decided that Lucy’s virginity should be punished and ordered that she should be taken to a brothel. Suddenly, no one could move Lucy from that spot. They tried to move her with a help of a bullock cart, a thousand people, a wizard, surrounding her with a bonfire, and hot oil, without any help.
When locals realized that there was no way to move Lucy, they pierced her throat with a sword. Regardless, she continued to pray loudly. She announced the end of persecution, peace to Christians, the death of Emperor Maximilian, and the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian built his retirement palace in Split, which is an important Croatian site included on UNESCO’s world heritage list. [Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia]
According to another legend, Lucy took out her eyes and sent them to her fiancé in a bowl. After this, Saint Mary (Sveta Marija) gave her the most beautiful eyes one can imagine.
Lucy died in 305 after Bishop Eutychius gave her Holy Communion (sveta pričest).
In Croatia, Saint Lucy’s Day is called “blagdan Svete Lucije” which translates as “Feast of Saint Lucy”. It is marked on December 13 and it is a Christian holiday and a working day, not a national holiday. [Read: Croatia National Holidays]
The name “Lucy” (Lucija) is strictly related to light and sight. The name is derived from the Latin word “lux” which means “light”. People pray to Saint Lucy for good eyesight and protection against eye diseases.
Saint Lucy is often illustrated holding two eyes on a platter. She often holds a flashlight, torch, sword, dagger, or has a neck injury.
Saint Lucy is a protector of:
- Repentant harlots
- Sick children
- Against eye diseases
- Against blindness
- Against sore throat and neck
- Against infectious and childhood diseases.
Saint Lucy is patron saint of the Turopolje region and the city of Velika Gorica.
On December 13, people called Lucija, Luce, Luca, Lucijan, and Lucijana celebrate their name day – including our lovely team member Lucija Perić.
There are several Croatian customs that are related to the celebration of Saint Lucy.
#1 Sowing Christmas wheat
In Croatia, it is a tradition to sow Christmas wheat called “božićna pšenica” on December 13. This is an old Christmas custom that has symbolic meanings. Saint Lucy announces Christmas as the birthday of light, so 12 days between Saint Lucy and Christmas are called Lucy’s days (Lucijini dani).
The wheat grain symbolizes new life and its green thin leaves symbolize vitality and strength. It is a belief that it is possible to predict what the harvest will be like by how the seeds germinate. If the Christmas wheat germinates poorly, the harvest will be poor. If the wheat grows green, thick, and tall, the next year will be fruitful.
Christmas wheat is also a nice decoration for the Christmas table. [Read: How to grow Christmas wheat (Božićna pšenica)]
#2 Unmarried girls custom
There is an old Croatian custom related to unmarried girls. On December 13, girls write down the names of 13 men on 13 separate papers. In the following days, they would burn one piece of paper each day, not knowing the name that is written on the paper. They would open the last paper on Christmas. According to the belief, a girl would marry the man whose name was written on this final paper.
#3 Pumpkin lit with candle
In Slavonija and Podravina, there is a unique custom related to lit pumpkins. Youth cut out parts of the pumpkin to give it eyes, nose, and mouth. Then they would put a candle into the pumpkin to look scary in the dark. They used to frighten children with these pumpkins as they yelled “Ide Luce” or “Peš po Lucijaj” in Podravina, which both mean “Here comes Lucy”.
#4 “Glavno spravišće” (main assembly, parliament) in Turopolje
In the Turopolje region, an annual event is held on December 13, since the 13th century. This event is a general election or main assembly (parliament) called “glavno spravišće”. This custom dates back to the 13th century. Back at the time, all nobles and representatives of villages from Turopolje would gather to pick a new prefect of Turopolje called “komeša”. The event was held in Turopolje Burg. After it, a holy mass would be held in a burg in Lukavac.
#5 Other customs
In Croatia, it is also believed that Lucija brings small gifts in the house like Saint Nicholas. [Read: Nikolinje – Saint Nicholas’ Day]
In Otok near Vinkovac, there is an old custom of people carrying a pan full of heat through the city. In Tabor, Hrvatsko zagorje, on Sveta Lucija, women do not spin.
In Slavonija, a woman would come to the house with an ember and scare the girls to do handcrafts diligently. Sometimes, women would put candles in their hair.
In Međimurje, people would bake round corn bagels without salt and fat. They would give it to cattle and people as protection against rabies.
In the Kajkavian regions, people would make chairs and sticks out of wood after December 13. Then they would go to the Polnoćka (Christmas mass). If they would stand on the chairs or sticks and turn to the people, they could see witches. [Read: The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj, and Ča]
Is Saint Lucy’s Day celebrated where you live? Are there any customs?
View other holiday posts
- All Saint’s Day (Dan svih svetih) in Croatia
- Anti-Fascist Struggle Day (Dan antifašističke borbe)
- Corpus Christi (Tijelovo)
- Day of Remembering the Victims of Croatia War of Independence and Day of Remembering Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja
- Epiphany (Bogojavljenje, Sveta tri kralja)
- How Croatia celebrates Easter
- Međunarodni praznik rada (Labor Day)
- Nikolinje – Saint Nicholas’ Day
- Silvestrovo and New Year’s Eve in Croatia
- St. Martin’s Day (Martinje)
- Statehood Day (Dan državnosti)
- Sveti Stjepan, Štefanje (St. Stephen’s Day)
- Velika Gospa (Assumption of Mary)
- Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day (Dan pobjede i domovinske zahvalnosti)
A full list of Croatian holidays is available here.
Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.