December 13 is the Feast of St. Lucy, an early virgin martyr. “Lucia” is the Latin word “light,” and December 13 used to be the day of the Winter Solstice before the Gregorian reform of the calendar moved the solstice back to December 23. For these reasons medieval Christians could not resist celebrating Lucy’s Day with various symbols of light. Here are three: two for all ages, and the third for the grown ups.
In Scandinavian cultures it is customary for a girl in a white dress donning a wreath of burning candles to awaken the family from sleep and offer a tray with coffee and cakes. The impersonator is called a Lussibrud (Lucy bride) and her pastry is Lussekattor. In our family, the daughters alternate being the Lucy bride, and the pastry is usually something more mundane like store-bought danishes or Shipley’s Donuts. And instead of awakening the family, the family awakens Mom with breakfast in bed as we sing to her our own version of the Italian gondoliers’ “Santa Lucia” (which you can find in both Drinking with the Saints and Drinking with Saint Nick). These days one can buy a wreath with electric candles, but do you really want to miss the joy of pulling wax out of your daughter’s hair and possibly setting the drapes on fire?
In the U.S. and Mexico we should be grateful to the Scandinavians for giving Mom coffee in bed the morning after the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and all that tequila…
Here is an explanation of this custom from Marian Von Trapp:
“It is an ancient Hungarian custom to offer to the Infant in the manger the green sprouts of wheat. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Hungarian nation and wheat is the symbol of sustenance and prosperity for this nation. It is therefore the most suitable gift for the newborn Saviour. But it also has a meaning for everyone. The ‘new wheat’ symbolizes the “new bread” in the natural order and also the ‘New Bread of Life’ in the supernatural order; for it is from wheat that the altar bread is made which becomes the Holy Eucharist, the bread of our souls.
“The wheat seeds are planted on the day of St. Lucy, the virgin martyr, December 13th. Kept in a moderately warm room and watered daily, the plant reaches its full growth by Christmas. The little daily care given to it is flavored with the joy of expectation for the approaching Christmas and spreads the spirit of cheerfulness as the tender plant reminds us of our spiritual rebirth through the mysteries of Christmas.
“To plant the seeds, take a flower pot four or five inches in height and fill it with plain garden sod. Spread the seeds on the top and press gently, so that the seeds are covered with sod. Do not push them too deep. Watered daily at the manger and paying its simple homage to the newborn Saviour, the plant will last until about January 6th.”
SANCTA LUCIA MARTINI
Because of her connection to light, Lucy became the patron saint of eyes, which are “the light of the body.” Following this lead a later tradition claims that Lucy was tortured and that her eyes were gouged out. Lucy is consequently portrayed in Christian art holding a tray containing her two eyes (actually, we should say two of her eyes, because another pair miraculously grew back). To honor this colorful story, have a Drinking with the Saints original—if you can consider a mere rearrangement of ingredients original. The Sancta Lucia Martini is a martini with the olives configured to look like a pair of eyes. We’re confident that if Saint Lucy did not have a good sense of humor on earth, she has one now by virtue of the Beatific Vision and that heavenly mirth which Chesterton says is God’s greatest secret.
Sancta Lucia Martini
2 oz. gin
1 dash vermouth
Pour all ingredients except olives into a shaker or mixing glass with ice and stir forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass. Transfix the two olives with a cocktail sword so that the pimentos are positioned like eyeballs and place them horizontally on the glass rim.