13 December 2011

13 December - Saint Lucy

Weather:  If St. Lucy’s day be bright, Christmas day will be dark with snow; but if the snow falls on St. Lucy, Christmas will be clear and sunny.

The weather on each of the twelve days from St. Lucy to Christmas Eve presages the weather for the twelve months of the coming year.

At Syracuse, in Sicily, the birthday of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, in the persecution of Diocletian.  By the order of the ex-consul Paschasius, she was delivered to profligates, that her chastity might be insulted; but when they attempted to lead her away, they could not succeed, either with ropes or with many yoke of oxen.  Then pouring hot pitch, rosin, and boiling oil over her body without injuring her, they finally plunged a sword into her throat, and thus completed her martyrdom.

This is the Ides of December and the feast of Saint Lucy (or Lucia), Virgin and Martyr (c303).  A young lady of Syracuse (Sicily) who preferred a religious single life to marriage, she gave away her patrimony in alms, and was denounced as a Christian by her rejected fiancé.  The governor first tried to talk her out of her beliefs; when that failed, he (thinking that her power lay in her physical chastity) ordered her to be taken to a nearby brothel and gang-raped until she died.  They tried to drag her away to the brothel, but she could not be moved - not by one man, or a thousand, or a team of oxen.  The governor then ordered her burned alive, but the fire did not hurt her.  Finally, she was dispatched with a sword to the throat.

She is the patron of Syracuse, and of those suffering from blindness, eye-problems, and throat infections.  Today would be a good day to make a contribution to one of the many organizations which work with and for the blind and those whose eyesight is failing.  If you have any old prescription glasses in good shape, donate them to the Lion’s Club Recycle for Sight Program.  Contribute to the costs of raising and training a seeing-eye dog.  Buy and donate audiobooks or books written in Braille to a cooperating library of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And pray, not only for the physically blind, but also the spiritually blind.

Her name, which refers to light and clarity, is especially appropriate for an early winter festival when the sun seems to be disappearing.  At one time, Saint Lucia’s day was also the day of the winter solstice in northern Europe, giving rise to the old rhyme:

Lucy light, Lucy light,
Shortest day and longest night.

The English poet John Donne wrote in A Nocturnall upon S. Lucie's Day, being the shortest day:

" 'Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The worlds whole sap is sunk: "

The reigning darkness was combated by bonfires and torchlight processions outside, and well-lit rooms inside, with revelry lasting sometimes all night long.  No work was done on St. Lucy’s day, as it was believed that the other ‘Bearer of Light’, aka Lucifer, would destroy not only the work but the implements [I think that was a ploy used to get out of the day’s chores, but on the chance that there might be something in it, I’m leaving the laundry until tomorrow.]

Swedish Saint Lucia festivities are probably the most well-known, with the eldest daughter of the house, dressed as the “Lucy Bride” in white with a red sash and a wreath with candles on her head, serving her parents coffee and St. Lucia buns.  These lovely saffron-flavored breads often go by the name ‘Lussekattor’, and you can find any number of recipes to try on the Internet, for like good food anywhere, there are as many variations as there are cooks.  (The actual origins of the Scandinavian customs are various and contradictory and well beyond me, but if you are interested, start with ‘lussebrud’ (Lusse Bride), which has become “Lucy Bride”, and ranges from a horrible female troll to the apparition of a beautiful maiden crowned with candles who crosses the water bringing food to the poor.)

For those who wish to be brides, here is a little prayer:

Sweet Saint Lucy let me know,
whose cloth I shall lay,
whose bed I shall make,
whose child I shall bear,
whose darling I shall be,
whose arms I shall sleep in.

Her usual attribute is a dish holding her eyeballs, as seen here.  Two stories account for this: 
1. That an importunate suitor claimed that he could not forget her, for the memory of her beautiful eyes stayed with him.  She then plucked out her eyes and sent them to him, begging to be left alone. [Rather snarky]  
2.  That her eyes were plucked out during her torture.  

 In both instances, her eyes were restored by God, so all those grotesque modern depictions with empty sockets are so much hogwash.  Oh, did I say that?  I meant, of course, that they are incorrect.

Anyway, the appropriate treat for today would be EYEBALL CANDIES, which you probably haven't seen since Hallowe'en, but if you have made Buckeyes, the recipe will look familiar.

Cream together 1/2 cup of softened butter and 1-1/2 cups of creamy peanut butter.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 2 cups of powdered sugar, and mix well.  Chill this mixture for half an hour (makes it easier to form.  Trust me).  Spoon out a little dough and roll it into a small ball (small is relative; 1-1/2 inch diameter works for me).  Continue to make balls out of the rest of the dough; place them on wax paper and chill again for 1/2 hour.

While the dough-balls are chilling, get out 12 ounces of white chocolate (for dipping) and follow the instructions given for melting it.  Mine calls for microwaving it, which is probably the easiest.  Dip the eyeballs into the chocolate, using slotted spoons, skewers, or toothpicks.  Put the dipped eyeballs on a sheet of wax paper and cool until firm.

For the irises, you can either color the remaining chocolate with blue food coloring (or divide it, and color one part blue and one part green), or you can use decorating gels in those colors (as I did), or use Lifesaver candies.  Make a small circle of color on the top of the eyeball and press a miniature chocolate-chip in the center (that's the pupil).  I turn my chocolate chip upside down, so the pupil is flat.  You can use the regular-size chocolate-chips; the eyes will look like they've been smoking something.

If you don't want to go through the job of mixing peanut butter and chilling it, one recipe uses Vanilla Wafers as the eyeballs.  Dip into white chocolate and decorate as usual.  The eyeball may be flat, but still quite good.

"Sacrifice which pleaseth God is to visit the widows and orphans, and to help them in their need: I have not ceased these three years past to make to God such sacrifice, and forasmuch as I have no more of which I may make yet such sacrifice, I offer to Him myself, let Him do with His offering as it pleaseth Him.
from The Golden Legend, "The Life of the Blessed Virgin Lucy"