“Santa Lucia bella, dei bimbi sei la stella.”
When December arrives, Bergamo is full of celebration: here Christmas arrives early!
December 13th is indeed the celebration dedicated to Saint Lucia: a fixed appointment and much awaited by children.
Saint Lucia is the protector of the blind, electricians and ophthalmologists, she is the saint of light, but do you know her true story?
We are in the 4th century A.D., at the time of the persecution of Christians and Lucia, a young girl from Syracuse, is killed because she confesses that she is a Christian and does not renounce her faith. It is said that the eyes were removed from the young girl before being killed. There is a second legend about the myth of the Saint most loved by children: it seems that the young Lucia made a boy fall in love with her, dazzled by the beauty of her eyes, he asked for them as a gift. She consented but a miracle happened and her eyes became even more beautiful than before: The boy also asked for these but Lucia refused and was killed.
But why is Saint Lucia a magical day? Because on board her cart pulled by her faithful donkey, the Saint brings gifts and sweets to children on the night between the 12th and 13th of December.
Children can barely contain their excitement: the anticipation of waiting, the anxiety of choosing the right gift to ask for, mixed with the fear that the saint does not bring the right gifts.
To receive gifts, there are two requirements: to behave well during the year and to send a letter by December 12th. The letter is the most famous tradition! The address must be indicated on the envelope, whether it is Via del Paradiso or Sky and after the “Dear Saint Lucia”, children write the list of desired gifts and explain to Saint Lucia why they deserve them, saying they have been good throughout year. For children who have behaved badly, the only gift will be coal.
The letter should be “sent” during the first days of December. In the centre of Bergamo, children come to the church dedicated to the Saint, near Sentierone, at the beginning of Via XX Settembre. On weekends before the celebration, long lines of children deposit their letters in the basket in front of the statue of the Saint.
On the night between the 12th and 13th December, traditionally children would want to go to bed very early and look forward to the following morning: before going to bed, in the living room or on window sills, they prepare a small thank you, coffee, milk and biscuits for the Saint and water, carrots and hay for her donkey.
It’s important to go to sleep quickly and forbidden to enter the room in her presence, otherwise Saint Lucia will depart without leaving gifts or, worse, throwing ash in the eyes of the impatient child and making them blind.
The next morning, the children get up at the first light of dawn and find presents along with a multitude of sweets: candy, chocolate coins, lollipops, sugar bracelets, marshmallow skewers and the ever-present cri-cri sweets, a hazelnut centre covered with chocolate and small balls of sugar. The rascals will certainly find also some tasty sugar coal.
In the days leading up to the event, the city shines. Market stalls and rides enliven the city centre in an atmosphere of pure Christmas magic. Under the Memorial Tower, a few steps from the Donizetti Theatre, the Saint Lucia carousel is set up: with its horses and the melody of the carillon. It is a unique emotion for the little ones and for the whole family. The traditional stalls that animate Sentierone spread a sweet air, flavoured with cotton candy and fritters. A stroll through the market is a must, you will find toys, beautiful handicrafts and many delicacies, especially desserts of all shapes and tastes!